February 20, 2018
Photo: Students stage a ‘lie-in’ in front of the White House to demonstrate against gun violence. NY Daily News.
19 years ago, the shooting at Columbine High School shook the US to its core and permanently changed the educational experience of American students. On that day, two armed students killed 13 people and injured more than 20, making it one of the most horrific and deadly shootings in the nation’s history.
In the 19 years since, there have been so many more mass shootings in the US that the Columbine attack is no longer even among the top 10 deadliest in modern American history. In fact, five of these most fatal attacks have occurred just within the past year and a half. Breaking news no longer delivers the shock that it once did. Although always heartbroken, many Americans have long since stopped asking how something like this could happen.
There is a new emerging set of voices, however, that will not so easily be quieted by the usual political “thoughts and prayers” rhetoric. The high school students of today, a demographic born within the past 19 years, have grown up in a world that treats gun violence at schools like an unfortunate fact of life. Some are calling them the ‘Mass Shooting Generation.’ From the time they entered school, they were put through active shooter drills and made to practice lockdowns, silently huddled together on the floor in the darkest corner of a classroom.
Now, these students are reaching adulthood, finding their political voices, and, in the wake of the Florida shooting, speaking out. Above all else, they want increased gun control. This is one of the most controversial topics of US political discourse, made ever worse by the huge sums of money paid to officials by the National Rifle Association (NRA) pro-gun lobby. In 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million to help elect Donald Trump. The students are now pleading that he listen to them instead.
Still, Trump insists that the mental health of the shooter was behind this incident, denying that the incredible ease of access to guns in the US played a role. Emma Gonzales, a teenager speaking at a recent anti-gun rally, countered that gun control is paramount issue here, that nothing else could have prevented the attack. “We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” said Gonzalez. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.” It is imperative to note also that the Florida shooter bought his gun legally, passing the required background checks despite a violent history.
Knowing that words are not enough, the ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ has decided to act. On Monday, students staged a ‘lie-in’ demonstration outside the White House. Despite the cold, wet weather, they lay on the ground to symbolize the students slain in so many horrific attacks. At a Florida high school not far from the recent attack, student protesters held signs that said, “It could’ve been us.” and “Your silence is killing us.”
More demonstrations are planned across the country in the coming weeks, including student marches on the Florida Capitol, a protest in Washington D.C., a nationwide school walkout, and then in April, The National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools calls for a massive show of solidarity and empowerment across the country. This day, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, will mark also 20 years of the latent fear and grief that have become endemic to American schools. It will also hopefully spark a new era of healing and progress in the US against gun violence, led by the students affected most.