As many of you know, a high school in South Florida was attacked yesterday by a former student, resulting in the brutal murder of 17 innocent people. What you may not know is that I have walked the halls of that school. Although I had only ever been to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for extracurricular activities, many students whom I had gone to middle school with did attend that school for high school. That school could have very well been my own or your own.
I do not typically speak out about this sort of event because it seems that everybody gets really aggressive with their opinions rather than actually being productive and implementing a solution. This has hit very close to home and my silence will not help prevent this from happening in the future. I am taking this opportunity to speak out because we need a change now.
First off, I would like to express my deepest condolences to every person who has been affected by this tragedy. We must pray for the souls of those who have been murdered, the health of the injured, the trauma of those who have experienced loss, and for the one who caused this devastating situation. Although there are other pressing issues to be addressed, this community needs love, comfort, and healing, before anything else. (Side note: I urge you to actually take a moment out of your day to reflect and pray on this situation rather than just type “Prayers & Hugs” in a Facebook comment.)
I could rattle off facts about the large number of shootings in the United State and the comparisons between here and other countries, but we all know it: gun violence is an issue in the United States and too many innocent people are dying.
I have been following the entire situation since the first reports of gunshots were made yesterday afternoon. I have watched the press briefs. I have made myself familiar with all of the information that has been released. A 19-year-old male (who does not even deserve to be named) opened fire around the time of dismissal at a high school with about 3000 students, resulting in dozens of death and injuries.
I know Twitter is not always a reliable news source (although the verified pages of state and county officials have provided useful information), but I have been using it as a way to observe the reactions of thousands of people. The majority of people are either arguing that we need gun control, or we just need more support for the mentally ill. Well, guess what…we need both…and more.
Let’s start off at gun control and the presented pros and cons of the right to bear arms.
Pros: hunting to feed family, self-defense, “because we are Americans and it is our God given right”
Cons: public places are easily turned into one-side battlefields, innocent lives are taken by fatal gun related injuries, accidental deaths due to misuse of guns
I am not an expert on guns or on any laws surrounding the purchase of guns, but I do know this: no civilian has a need for a semiautomatic weapon. All of the major mass shooters in America over the past few years have used AR-15s. To my understanding, with that type of gun, you pull a trigger for each shot but you don’t have to reload ammunition (sorry for the major layman’s terms). These weapons are designed for warfare and a campus full of students should not be a warzone.
Although much stricter gun control could help protect future generations, it is difficult to eradicate guns from out country instantly. There will continue to be illegally obtained guns, but even a portion of firearms being removed from circulation could make a difference. Laws made now will only help going forward, so that it is important to make some sort of change as soon as possible.
Completely banning guns may not even be necessary. If semiautomatic weapons were completely banned and much more difficult standards to purchase any gun were enforced, we could potentially be much better off, but I do not believe that this will entirely fix the problem. This is only part of the solution.
The second major part of the solution is very important not only to prevent situations like these, but to prevent many other detrimental situations, as well. There needs to be a greater focus on mental health.
When one plans to kill a multitude of people, that is clear a sign of mental illness. There is a clear psychological disconnect somewhere. Human beings are said to be rational creatures, but opening fire on innocent people is not a rational thing to do. There is a psychological disconnect. Mental illness is certainly not an excuse for such heinous acts, but can certainly be a cause. If the mental illness is identified and support is given, tragic situations can be avoided.
The red flags that indicate a possible presence of mental illness need to be taught on a wider scale. As far as I can remember, the only time mental health was discussed throughout my 15 years in school was one section in my online health class and one section of my gym class. We did not go into detail beyond simply knowing a sentence-long definition of about 5 different mental disorders.
Piggybacking off the focus on mental health is the issue of bullying. “School shooter” is actually a name that bullies like to use to pick on kids. There is definitely a school shooter profile and stereotype. Kids can sometimes be labeled as a school shooter with out ever having the intentions of becoming one (not necessarily the case here) and then end up being the kids that make threats to their classmates. (This was an actual situation at a local high school recently and a child’s reputation was destroyed because of this bullying which made it difficult to determine the accuracy of threats.)
Mental health issues and bullying go hand in hand. The Stoneman Douglas shooter was described by his classmates as a “loner” or an “outcast.” We are humans so, naturally, we want to belong. Being picked on and ostracized by the other students hurts. Being ignored or deemed “irrelevant” by classmates hurts. Kids are not born as loners or outcasts, but become them when they are not deemed good enough by their peers.
Again, none of these are excuses for the evil behavior but they are reasons. In a perfect world, instead of teaching our kids how to hide from a shooter, we would be teaching them to love the shooter so that the outcast never become “the shooter.”
I commend the young survivors who have been speaking out. They are speaking out on behalf of their classmates who no longer haveb a voice. These children are demanding justice and change.
We must move forward, but not in a silent and forgetful way as we have done in the past. We need to be praying and loving, but also must be taking action. Our government will hear us. I feel that we can no longer rely on our elders to make the difference because they have failed us. My generation will make the difference.
Again, I would like to offer my sincerest sympathy to all of those involved. May God bless the souls of the lives taken too soon.