On Feb. 14, a 19-year-old gunman named Nikolas Cruz showed up to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 Assault Rifle. According to a 15-year-old student who passed by him on his way into the building, Cruz said, “You’d better get out of here. Things are going to start getting messy.”
In about 20 minutes, three faculty members and 14 students were killed or fatally injured, and 14 more were wounded. This is the seventh intentional school shooting this year. But does it come as a surprise? When it’s easier for a 19-year-old to buy an assault rifle than a handgun, when mental health is so often held as a joke and ignored, when reports of potentially dangerous individuals are overlooked, can we really be surprised when things like this repeatedly happen?
When we don’t make any efforts to stop these events, is it any surprise they’ve become a staple of our culture? We’ve seen this before. We saw this in Orlando, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, etc. It’s become a cycle. People die, and each time all we are offered are thoughts and prayers instead of policy change and results. Each time, we watch the news coverage in horror as the death tolls rise. Each time, it’s “too soon” to talk about it. The sound of inaction is deafening. It’s louder than 17 life-ending gunshots, louder than the sound of screams down school hallways and it’s louder than the cries of parents on their knees when they get the news.
Why is it that we are the only country in the world in which these shootings routinely occur, and yet we still claim there’s nothing we can do to prevent these tragedies? How many times will we see the same story with a different headline, how many children do we have to bury before people finally realize that enough is enough?
I respect and appreciate the right of every citizen to own a weapon. It’s a principal this country was founded on, and one that I believe is still applicable. The only problem is, the weapons have changed, but the policies have not. A 1776 musket would never be as much of a threat as a modern-day assault rifle. The second amendment was made in a time when mass terror attacks such as the ones we’re facing today didn’t exist. The times change, and if we don’t change with them— in the words of Nikolas Cruz himself— things get messy.
President Donald Trump, who had only “prayers and condolences” to offer the world after the Parkland school shooting, received over $11 million from the National Rifle Association during the 2016 election alone. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who insists that there is no law we could pass to prevent these shootings, received over $3 million from the NRA in his career. It is clear that as long as politicians stand to gain something from a lack of gun regulation, we can expect to see no changes.
We have two options: we can sit on our hands and watch innocent people die, or we can start to work together to formulate policy change. But gun violence is not the only issue here. Mental health in this country is overlooked, and at times, entirely ignored. In the case of Nikolas Cruz, the FBI had actually received warnings about his behavior and chose to ignore them. If we don’t allow ourselves to regulate access to weapons, at least let us look deeper into the missteps that caused such an egregious overlook when the tip was received in January.
Let’s explore mental health in this country, and why a federal bureau would think it acceptable to pass by someone who was so clearly a threat to those around him. Until then, keep an eye on the daily news, and keep an eye on those death tolls. This was not the first mass shooting this year, and unless something changes, it certainly will not be the last. Let’s pay attention to how many children die, and how many innocent people get slaughtered in the street. Above all, pay attention to how long it takes to lose your sense of outrage.
Our world does not have to be this way. The worst thing we can do is become numb to the violence. If we do not recognize something has to change, we become complicit in the tragedies. Have those difficult conversations, write to your representatives and scream this from every rooftop in the city, “something has to change.”