On Feb. 14, 2018, the unthinkable happened — at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — a mass shooting that has completely changed the conversation on gun violence. Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered this public high school with an AR-15 rifle, taking the lives of 17 people and injuring another 17 innocent victims in the process (Stanwood and Burke). Teenage survivors of this shooting have taken to the media to share their thoughts on the gun laws in our nation, and I am amazed at their determination and strength. I believe that we need to implement stronger gun regulations that would make it harder for people who aren't qualified to own a gun to purchase one. Specifically, we need to create background checks that take more than a day to process, teach mandatory classes to every new gun owner on how to operate the weapon, and ban weapons that can kill 20 people in 20 seconds.
Just like most of America, I have watched the news and read plenty of articles that were obviously in favor of one political party more than the other, and have wondered what all this controversy means. I occasionally listened to some of the debates happening within the last presidential election, but before that I never had a reason to pay attention. It wasn't until I learned about the #NeverAgain movement created by the survivors of this horrible mass shooting that I realized it was time to listen up. I have always felt that there should be stricter background checks when it comes to purchasing weapons, but I never went too far to express that feeling. I never imagined that someone my age would do much to change national laws and the viewpoints of government officials. This activist movement is trying to do just that and is succeeding thus far.
Cameron Kasky is one of the teenagers at the head of this gun control revolution. He was asked to write an op-ed paper for CNN and it is incredibly powerful. He calls out our government officials and blames them for their lack of concern about the safety of the children of America. Kasky said, “This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses,” which is a very mature sentence for a 17-year-old. The paper ends with Cameron saying he is just a high school student who knows that it is time for a big change to happen, and since he and his fellow classmates cannot vote, those who can need to make the vote count. If I were in the situation of the Parkland students, I think I would demand change as well and wouldn't stay quiet.
In a great article written by Emily Witt, a staff writer at The New Yorker, she interviews the teenagers leading this movement and explains how their new campaign for gun control came to be. A group of students each took to social media and the press different ways — Sarah Chadwick used Twitter to attack the president, resulting in her tweet going viral, while Jaclyn Corin posted on Instagram pleading, “PLEASE contact your local and state representatives, as we must have stricter gun laws IMMEDIATELY” (Witt). Meanwhile, as mentioned above, Cameron Kasky who posted Facebook updates hours after the tragic shooting, was hard at work at his house trying to create what is now the amazing #NeverAgain movement. He recruited other students, including Corin, and worked out all the details, including the main goal of the campaign — stricter background checks for gun buyers and decreasing the influence of the NRA on our politicians. These students learned about the laws currently in place regarding guns and how easy it is for people to acquire them. I have since learned from their speeches and by conducting my own research what I believe needs to be done to ensure that America is a much safer place.
When going into a store to purchase a gun, the person behind the counter will run two background checks on the customer: a state check and a federal check. The results come in relatively fast, and if the person does not fail these checks they are cleared to purchase the weapon. A person can fail their background checks if they were convicted of a crime, are an illegal alien, etc. I learned this from an article written by Kate Taylor for Business Insider, and all the information is factual and credible. These are valid reasons to not own a gun, however, there should be more factors that play into these checks. What if the person is addicted to heroin or alcohol? What if the person has major depression and is suicidal? There should be a mandated test that looks for signs of severe mental illness and instability. The person would have to go to a local hospital to complete that part of the check, but if they have nothing to hide it should not be an issue to complete. It may be tedious but in the end, it could save many lives. I believe having this wait time between buying a gun and actually receiving it could be beneficial as well. I say this because if someone was planning on committing a crime that night, they no longer could because the weapon they were trying to purchase would be on hold until the test results came in.
Another way we could decrease the amount of gun violence in America is to require new gun owners to go to state mandated classes. These classes would be taught by trained professionals who would show potential gun owners exactly how to use the weapon they plan on purchasing. Many people die from accidents involving guns because they simply do not know how to operate the weapon. I believe this system would be effective because it would delay the process of getting a gun, as well as teach the proper safety techniques needed when using such deadly instruments. First-time hunters must go to hunter safety courses to learn how to safely hunt in the woods and then take a test on the information. When you turn 16 in Pennsylvania, you are required to take a test to get your learner's permit and complete sixty-five hours of practice before taking your driver's test. You also must wait six months from the day you got your permit to become eligible to take the test for your driver's license. Cars kill thousands of people every month; why should the people operating guns that kill thousands not be required to complete similar training?
Lastly, the topic that has probably spiked the most controversy: the use of the AR-15 and it’s “right” to be in an American’s hands. I cannot scroll through my Facebook feed without someone sharing their opinion on this topic and normally it is an extremely conservative comment. Many people believe that liberals want to strip all Americans of every gun ever invented. Personally, I have never seen it this way, and don’t believe that the Second Amendment should be thrown into the conversation when discussing the safety of people in our country. The man who committed the mass shooting in Florida used this specific weapon, which can fire 45 rounds per minute. I don’t see the harm in people owning weapons for hunting or small-scale target shooting. However, I don’t believe Americans need to own guns that can do such extreme and devastating damage to innocent victims in a matter of seconds. Due to the demand for action created from the Parkland survivors and their supporters, small changes have started to occur around the sale of these weapons.
Two weeks after the shooting in Parkland, two major stores have changed their policies regarding the sale of these firearms. According to an article written by Julie Creswell and Michael Corkey for The New York Times, “Walmart, the biggest gun seller, announced late in the afternoon [on Feb. 28] that it would no longer sell any gun to anyone under 21 years of age. It also said it would no longer sell items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns.” This is a huge step in the right direction for the fight for gun control! Similarly, “Dick’s said it was immediately ending sales of all assault-style rifles in its stores. The retailer also said that it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines and would also require any gun buyer to be at least 21, regardless of local laws,” (Crewsell and Corkey). If every store that sold guns would make these changes, America would already be changed for the better. Another way gun control activists have been trying to create change is by protesting. On March 14, high schools across the nation participated in the “Walk-Out Day” to memorialize the lives lost in Parkland and to show support to their plans for better gun laws. Also, on March 24, the Parkland survivors held an enormous rally in Washington, D.C., called the “March for Our Lives” that had a major turn out (over 850,000 people!). Again, people across the U.S. took to the streets to protest the lack of gun control and many marched right outside the nation’s capital. I watched most of the march on television, and the speeches from the students were sophisticated and powerful. A big message sent from this protest was that every vote counts and teenagers need to get registered to vote now. Until then, it is all up to our government officials to make the changes that so many Americans are fighting for.
In conclusion, the topic of gun control and mass shootings has been a part of our history for a long time, and up until now, nothing has stopped these horrid events from continuing. Therefore, I strongly believe that with stronger background checks, mandatory gun safety training, and the ban of AR-15s for civilian use, we can stop this epidemic of gun violence. When I graduate from Shippensburg University and begin my career as a middle school math teacher, I want to ensure my students a healthy learning environment. Children need to be able to feel safe going to school every day without fear of a potential gunman entering their classroom. There is no better time than the present to make America a safe place again. Please keep my words and those of the survivors in mind when going to the polls this November. We CAN make a difference.