Gun violence and high school students
I don’t like putting considerable thought into things I can’t control. And, for the longest time, I considered gun violence to be one of them.
Not so much out of willed ignorance, but because, it is my understanding that, there comes a point where tragedy is just a number.
(One cannot feasibly empathize with, or conceive of, the significant suffering that occurs during, and after, gun violence. Especially in its most destructive form: A mass shooting. It’s a psychological fact that our capacity to empathize decreases the moment we look at a statistic; our minds simply cannot imagine the pain of 5+ people and, therefore, the very issue the statistic intends to emphasize gets mentally filed away. Under the category of: Nothing I Can Do About It.)
I don’t like giving considerable thought to gun violence, because I hate being confronted with my own emotional, and mental, shortcomings.
And, just in the course of researching for this column, I found myself experiencing the mental-murkiness that materializes, upon information-overload.
Reading about the most recent mass shooting–the Florida School Shooting–I had nowhere to concentrate my thoughts, or emotions. With each fact, I found myself down, yet another, rabbit hole. (I can’t imagine being shot and killed for no grander reason, other than my classroom was located near the eastern stairwell; why the ONE person in room 1234? How did this boy, with so many of the warning signs–access to weapons, depression, a history of behavioral issues, and a recent life-altering event–the death of his adopted mother–get overlooked?)
It’s the pointlessness of it all–individuals being reduced to blob-like numbers, because a kid, probably, wanted to feel important for two seconds–combined with–what appears to be–how easily it could’ve been avoided, that makes the “Nothing I Can Do About It” file so enticing.
It’s difficult to imagine my world as the same one where teenagers don’t come home, for reasons more malignant than a curfew violation.
(I read bleak descriptions of videos, taken from the inside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, while the shooting occurred–“Trembling hands. Blood curdling screams. Bullet-strewn classrooms. Blood-stained floors. Bodies…”–and I’m still struggling to find any connection between life, as I know it, and these images.
It’s like reading about a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in the sense that: Some variation of these things actually happened, and yet, no amount of shocking imagery can come close to accurately depicting the psychological pain, and resounding isolation, experienced by actual victims of such violence.)
That being said, the difficulty–if not impossibility–of comprehending how it feels to be a victim, of violent tragedy, is no excuse to not even try.
So I dug deeper–beyond bloody descriptions, and articles, which seemed to only focus on the logistics, or shooter. And I found Emma Gonzales, a victim of the Florida School Shooting, who recently gave a speech addressed to the NRA, Senator Marco Rubio, and President Trump.
Her speech struck me, but not because of the facts she sited (Donald Trump accepted $30 million from the NRA). Or because of the statistics she shared (“[If you take] $30 million divided by the number of gunshot victims in the 1 ½ months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800… If you don’t do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur [the] number of gunshot victims will go up, and the number that they are worth will go down”).
Yes: the facts, and statistics, were eye opening. But what I found most emotionally jarring occurred when Gonzales directly addressed the widespread opinion that she, and her peers, shouldn’t have “ostracized” the shooter.
Shaking with anger, she said, “You didn’t know this kid; we did.” And I heard something reminiscent of all statements made by victims who were, at the very least, acquainted with their perpetrators: the shock and fury of not feeling understood, or even listened to. The realization that there are people who truly believe a victim’s judgment of, or reaction to, his or her perpetrator, is partially to blame–or, at the very least, faulty.
I wondered why our society has such an aversion to victims who speak up; why we don’t treat them like experts, when it comes to preventing, and understanding, the exact thing they’ve experienced, firsthand.
I wondered why, so often, the solution posed for gun violence (violence in general) is more guns. Especially when high school students–ones who have actually survived a mass shooting–feel obligated to beg for stricter gun control laws. (At some point in her speech, Gonzales quoted a teacher who said, “When adults tell me I have the right to own a gun, all I hear is my right to own a gun outweighs your student’s right to live.”)
And finally, as a reaction, I questioned: What does proposing armed teachers, as a legitimate solution, to U.S. school shootings, say about our society’s direction? Is this really forward moving, in terms of what claims to be “American”? Does it promote unity, or a sense of freedom? Does it grant students the right to not only be, but to feel, safe?
I just don’t think that it does.
A gun strapped to a principle’s belt will only reinforce an oppressive authoritarianism, characteristic of a dictatorship. Something that’ll just promote more distraction, more debilitating anxiety, and fear–distrust between teachers and students. (As someone who has been aware of Columbine, ever since I was a third-grader, I look back on my years in high school, and I can confidently say–especially remembering specific individuals in the education system–that armed teachers wouldn’t have made me feel safe, at all.)
Furthermore, high school students should be looking forward to beginning, and building, their futures. They should be thinking about what careers they want to pursue, sports scholarships, higher education; working on an idea for an upcoming art project. Anything other than: What kind of gun control laws will rectify the mass murder I witnessed in the cafeteria?
I feel responsible, I can’t pretend not to.
No: I, personally, did not pick up a gun and decide to the take the lives of my peers, and mentors. But I am part of a society that produced, and enabled, someone who did. And there has to be some collective, and legal, responsibility surrounding this sentiment–one that involves, at the very least, trying something new.
We need to start listening to victims.