Soldiers Instead of Students

I didn’t hear about school shootings until I was 12  years old.

I had stayed after school to get some of my work done. The school was primarily empty, save for a few teachers and students held in after-school detention. I remember hearing a gasp from the teacher supervising me as she turned her attention to her computer screen. 

“There’s been a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown,” she whimpered, “My mom lives there.” 

Growing up in a secure area, I never had to worry about crime. I didn’t have to worry about locking my door at night or whether I’d be safe while walking home. It either never crossed my mind that bad things could happen if precautions aren’t taken, or I was so sure of my surroundings that I believed nothing would harm me.

Hearing about a school shooting while in school is nothing short of terrifying. Teachers piled into the classroom, eyes glued to the TV as we watched in horror at the screaming faces that flashed on screen. Kids who didn’t even know how to read and write had now witnessed one of the deadliest school shootings in America. How are these children supposed to know what to do when a “bad guy” wants to harm them?

Following Sandy Hook, my school did not educate us on what to do in the presence of an active shooter. The majority of the students and teachers who attended the school were proud gun owners, so talking about Sandy Hook in the classrooms was never dedicated to honoring the victims. Instead, it became a political debate. 

On Wednesday, February 14th, 2018, Florida experienced America’s deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. 17 beautiful lives were lost as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz rampaged the school after pulling the fire alarm to draw attention outside of the classrooms. In the wake of this massacre, survivors are using media attention to speak out about stricter gun control. Their voices are strong and unwavering. I can’t imagine how much courage it takes for them to continue to fight for their lives after such a traumatic experience. 

Some may say that the worst is over for the students in that high school. The shooter is in custody, so no more lives are threatened, right? No. The harsh reality is that until we have stricter gun control, the lives of Stoneman Jackson and Sandy Hook students are still at risk, even after shooters are dead or taken into custody. As long as politicians continue to get paid off by the NRA, nothing will change; without stricter gun control, it is no longer safe for parents to kiss their children goodbye and send them off to school—the possibility of another Stoneman Douglas happening is far too great.  

We are living in a country that cherishes an object that can end human life over human life itself. As wealth and greed continue to outweigh the safety of our students, it seems as though no amount of blood and tears shed from our youth will be enough for lawmakers to turn their backs on the money being thrown at them by the NRA. They’re quick to blame this on “mental illness,” because then they don’t have to do anything about it. The short-term comfort of owning a gun for “protection” outweighs the long-term safety of our people. In this country we are always trying to weigh out the pros and cons to determine a solution, yet we are using a scale that isn’t balanced to begin with. Even as news reporters shove microphones in the faces of traumatized teens, I can’t help but feel that they’re doing it because when they look at those teens, they see dollar signs rather than voices that need to be heard. 

It shouldn’t be normal that I have to quietly map out the layout of my school so that I know where I can run to if there is an active shooter. Teachers shouldn’t have to choose between saving their own lives and those of their students. We shouldn’t have to walk into school carrying a full arsenal of protection, from door stoppers to bulletproof blankets. And if we are being brought up in a society that will raise us to be soldiers instead of students, then get ready for an uprising—our army does not use weapons when we feel out of control. 

By Brooks Sullivan

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