Every year in Florida, where I grew up, we saw active fire drills as often as we prepared for hurricanes.
But students today face many challenges beyond maintaining their GPAs. I graduated from high school two years ago at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but the challenges we faced then are now magnified among current students. My generation had to deal with an all-time high Mental Health rates, racism in our curriculum, and a global pandemic that has taken us out of physical schools and into endless Zoom sessions, deepening our isolation and loneliness.
And after last month, we are again called to confront another concern that affects the very existence of our future: armed violence.
Every year in Florida, where I grew up, we saw active fire drills as often as we prepared for hurricanes. We watched the headlines of a school after school hit by tragedy. We witnessed the construction of fences around our school as a superficial form of security.
What we haven’t seen, however, is a significant policy shift. Then, on May 24, 2022, there was news of another school shooting, this time in UvaldeTexas, which claimed the lives of nineteen elementary school students and two teachers.
From when I started kindergarten in 2008 until I graduated from high school in 2020, a total of 257 school shootings occurred in the USA. In 2019, three years after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, my hometown, and a year after filming Parkland, Florida, I wrote a writing for The Progressive highlighting the lingering fear and frustration students face as we watch title after title tell the same painful story.
Now, in 2022, I’m disappointed to write that little has changed in a tangible way, even though many more have fallen victim to gun violence.
Tens of thousands of students protested, marched, called their representatives, and advocated for gun reform in new and unique ways. This youth-led movement has been widely covered by the media and bliss by progressive organizations and by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
The GOP and the NRA, meanwhile, have not shown a shred of respect to these young activists fighting for their lives, nor to public opinion who is clearly in favor of gun control.
Through decades and political administrations, gun violence has persisted as one of the nation’s biggest problems. But armed violence is only a symptom of another problem: political inaction.
I’m in college now, studying public and international affairs at Princeton University, but I’ve stopped reading the news as often as I used to. It’s always the same: an existing problem comes to light, promises of change are made, and said change is delayed and delayed until the problem presents itself again through unimaginable tragedy.
I wonder, is this exactly what some politicians are hoping for? That these tragedies happen again and again until they can’t be cared about, so they can sit in their ivory tower with no accountability to their constituents?
The issue of gun violence is as transparent as possible—45,222 people died gun-related injuries in the United States in 2020, more than any other year on record. On average, there is one mass shooting per day and around 110 people are kill by the daily armed violence in our country. On a ranking of developed countries by deaths related to gun violence, we are at the top, with about five times more deaths per capita than the next country.
Gun violence, as the Centers for Disease Control defined as a public health crisis, has become the leading cause of death among children in the United States. And, like any other disease, it affects the most vulnerable members of our society: women and gender minorities, LGBTQ+ people, communities of color and young people.
These communities are disproportionately likely to experience domestic violence and hate crimes, which are often fueled by guns. Two-thirds of intimate partner homicides in the United States imply guns. It is the same with hate crimes10,300 of which involve firearms in an average year.
One of the key reforms that experts and advocates have called for is a federal ban on assault weapons, which countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have successfully pushed through. implemented through government buyback programs.
Semi-automatic weapons have been used in numerous mass shootings across the United States, including in Uvalde and Parkland. When an assault weapons ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, mass shooting rates were significantly lower than the decades before and after the ban. There is also overwhelming support for universal background checksbut the majority of states have yet to implement them.
We need comprehensive reform that limits the circulation of assault weapons and encourages responsible gun ownership in our country. We need to raise awareness of the dangers of loose regulations that lessen the likelihood of violence.
To reduce gun violence, we must also work to prevent the kind of radicalization that leads to hate crimes like mass shootings in BuffaloNew York and at Pulse Nightclub.
This requires more funding to educate young people and communities about racial and social justice. It also means stricter regulation of disinformation and hate speech simmering on social media.
But if any of these changes are to pass, we cannot ignore the structural reform that is needed within our political system. So far, federal gun control legislation hasn’t passed, not because a majority of senators opposed it – in 2013, fifty-four senators from both parties voted in favor of background checks – but because of the obstructionwhich requires sixty votes for a bill to become law.
The filibuster has given disproportionate power to a minority of our country’s population in small rural states, preventing not only the passage of gun regulations but also many other important bills that could improve the lives of all of us. We must also support campaign finance reform that limits the power of the NRA, the gun lobby and other black money groups in politics.
Through decades and political administrations, gun violence has persisted as one of the nation’s biggest problems. But armed violence is only a symptom of another problem: political inaction. This issue may be lurking stealthily below the surface, but it’s the one we need to target our frustration and rage at.
I didn’t see the change I hoped for when I graduated from high school two years ago, but I beg it won’t when I graduate from college in 2024.
Thoughts and prayers don’t bring people back from the dead. They do not erase the trauma – physical and mental – that survivors must endure for the rest of their lives. What we owe to these people and to our entire country is to prevent these tragedies from happening again.
I won’t pretend that ending this epidemic will be easy, but it shouldn’t be that hard when we have the science and data ready to provide a cure.