This is the time to say #neveragain

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The demonstration was organized by Teens For Gun Reform, an organization created by students in the Washington, DC area, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Photo Courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

By Ben Ramirez

In the days and weeks following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students across the country have begun to stand up and be loud. We are tired of seeing our peers killed and robbed of their futures. We are tired of seeing mass shooting after mass shooting but not seeing anything done to prevent another.

Despite being dismissed as naive children, by adults and politicians who do not want change, we, more than any age group, know how important it is to create a safe environment in schools. U.S.A. Today calls us “Generation Columbine,” and with good reason; since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, there have been over 200 school shootings.

We have grown up in a society where random locker checks are standard and active shooter lockdown drills have begun to feel all too real. With every passing year and with each new school shooting, our fear has grown to epic proportions.

“We all just walk through the motions [during drills]. To think that it is possible for someone to make such a threat that we may have to actually evacuate or go on lockdown is terrifying regardless of how many times we practice,” freshman Abby Rivas said.

Since the Parkland shooting, the feeling of being unsafe has multiplied. Elementary school children should not have to be worried about their light up shoes attracting a shooter to where they are hiding, like the mother of one girl who chronicled her fear in a viral Facebook post. High schoolers should not pull up to school each day wondering if today is the day their school gets targeted.

Sophomore Andrew Lara is one of many who constantly makes certain he is aware of his surroundings. Like many other students, he has a plan of action just in case something were to happen.

“I just try to to think of methods I would take to maintain the safety of myself and my peers to make sure that in the every situation I will be prepared,” Lara said.

School safety precautions have been gradually increased in our lifetime, which shows that schools are doing what is necessary to protect their students to the best of their ability. Campuses across the nation have added security cameras, changed visitor procedures, required student identification at all time, and some have even added metal detectors.

Legislation has not seen the same trend, however.

In the almost 19 years since Columbine, hundreds of children have been robbed of their futures. Teachers have become heroes selflessly sacrificing their lives to save their students. It is in Parkland, Florida. It is in Newtown, Connecticut. It is in Blacksburg, Virginia and in Benton, Kentucky, and in hundreds more cities across the country; and yet, nothing has been done to prevent the next tragedy.

On September 11, 2001, the United States fell under attack and thousands of people were killed. In the aftermath, the USA Patriot (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act was swiftly passed. Various agencies were consolidated into the Department of Homeland Security, and every airport in the country increased security. The George W. Bush administration understood that there was no way something like this would ever happen again on American soil and did what was necessary to prevent that.

We are now in the third post-Columbine administration and still, very little gun control legislation has been passed. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, the Obama Administration attempted to pass legislation but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate would not pass it. In 2017, the Trump Administration repealed an Obama-era gun law, making it easier for the mentally ill to acquire a gun.

We are tired of nothing changing, despite politicians always offering their thoughts and prayers. Those are nice, but they are nothing but words. We want action, and it feels like change is finally on the horizon.

Largely led by students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, the Parkland shooting survivors have stood up and refused to sit down again, inspiring students across the country. They have turned their grief into motivation and are harnessing it to ensure that in Florida and across the country, students do not have to go to school fearful for their lives.

“Watching these ‘kids’ take a stand on an issue neglected by adults and politicians encourages me to use whatever voice I have to right the wrongs that affect my peers and me on a local scale. I encourage others to reflect on themselves and better contribute to the humanity of this nation, [however] that  may be. This country needs more passionate people. Although it is unfortunate that the adults and politicians are so wrapped up in the politics of it all, our outspoken youth radiates hope and catalyst for change,” senior Lily Eaves said.

Our youth plays to our advantage. We speak impulsively and are extremely stubborn. When we are passionate about something, we do not stop until we get our way. We are also intuitive, intelligent critical thinkers that understand more about society than we are given credit for. We are using this intuition to help us in our force for change. We are acting out of our fear for our safety and our desire to create a world where our children do not understand the terror of school shootings.

That being said, we should not have to be the ones driving this change. Adults, regardless of political affiliation and opinions on gun control should be willing to do anything and everything to protect their children. But since they have so obviously dropped the ball on this issue, it is up to us to make the difference ourselves.

“[Adults] are constantly saying that everything is going to be okay. They always say that they are going to fix it because they feel responsible for it. [We] need to make sure our voices are heard. Yes, we may face consequences but it is definitely worth it. Adults have failed us, so we need to make sure that we do not fail ourselves,” senior Anthony Neugebauer said.

To be clear, this movement is not about taking guns out of responsible people’s hands or infringing on the Second Amendment, but rather ensuring that those who should not have guns cannot acquire them. In the current political climate, the only way anything will get done in the foreseeable future is if the gun control debate takes a back seat.

So the big questions: Where do we go from here? What can we do?

Mental health is a much better issue with which to start. While it may be debated whether it is dispositional or environmental, and in actuality it depends on the case itself, both sides of the aisle can agree that correctly treating and diagnosing psychological disorders has the capability of preventing someone from even turning to violence. Although this would be the job of a professional, there are still ways you can contribute.

These individuals are often social outcasts. They feel like they are alone in the world. Just by being kind to the people in your life, and reminding others to be kind as well, you can make a difference in somebody’s life. You never know how much someone may need that little burst of kindness.

“I think our country needs to embrace the fact that we have a mental health issue that is not being adequately addressed. This is a difficult position to take because the immediate reaction from society is that we are somehow being sympathetic with the shooter, or making excuses for him, which is disrespectful to the lives of the victims. But this is a complex and multilayered issue that we are facing, so in order to solve it we can’t take a narrow approach and only focus on gun control, or only focus on improving security measures. Those two things obviously need reforming, but I think an equally important, and most often overlooked, piece of the solution will come when we figure out a way to reach those individuals who need psychological support before they reach the point of dangerous behavior,” psychology teacher Colin Strand said.

Together, we can end this political stalemate. We are turning our individual voices into one collective, unignorable voice to create widespread federal changes that cement ourselves into the American history books.

Use that voice to contact your elected officials. You can write letters or call their offices and stay persistent. They will listen. Donate to political campaigns throughout the country in swing districts. Most importantly, go out and vote at the midterm elections in November. Every vote counts. Register or pre register here; it takes less than 10 minutes and only requires you to be at least 16. You do not have to want to become a politician to get involved and make a difference.

Every day, the movement gains momentum and the responsible party is not the Democrats or Republicans, but high school students and young people. And the adults have taken notice. We will be the change we want to see in the world, but waiting until we are in political power to make those changes will be too late. This is our time to stand up make certain that this never happens again.

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Author: Ben Ramirez

Ben Ramirez is currently a freshman at the University of Missouri - Columbia, studying Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at bnramirez15@gmail.com.

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