Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

You know what makes powerful Washington leaders shake in their boots? Teenagers who are able to see through their political bull. That’s why the Parkland, Florida school shooting might be a watershed moment. On national TV and via social media, a group of young survivors put Washington on notice, demanding protection and imploring them to do their duty as adults and leaders to end the senseless gun violence.   

There was something surreal and ironic about watching American teenagers, the most privileged youth in the world, beg their government for protection from homegrown gun violence. Even the most hardened gun rights advocates had to shudder upon hearing their pleas for safety. It was like a proverbial slap across the face to America and exposed a chink in our democratic framework that seems to protect guns over people.

So, it begs the question: are we a free and democratic nation if our citizens are afraid they might be shot in school or church? Are things working if students are profiling their fellow schoolmates to assess who might be the next shooter? Caroline Sheehan, a senior at West Chester East High School, has been concerned with recent talks among the students in her school.

“As if it were Best Dressed or Most Likely to Succeed, people are labeling kids ‘Most Likely to Shoot Up a School.’ It’s scary to think what that can do to someone’s head and in turn what that student could do to other students.”

In total, 17 victims—14 of whom were students—lost their lives in the tragic shooting. However, during this dark day, there was light shining through, thanks to the heroes who prevented more people from being injured or worse. Three staff members, who will forever be remembered, gave their lives protecting the children and their futures. Geography teacher Scott Biegel was killed while opening up his classroom for a student to hide in. Coach Aaron Fies, one of many football coaches who sprung into action, was shot dead as he used his own body to shield two students.

Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director, was also killed as he ran toward the sound of gunfire. Student and ROTC member Peter Wang was killed holding the door open so that other students could escape death. He was buried in his uniform and was given very rare posthumous acceptance into the United States Military Academy.

A solution might ease the pain of these senseless deaths, but it’s a thorny problem with a range of perspectives and challenges.

Some say the gun type is to blame. Others say it is the lack of background checks. Some think a national gun registry might help. Better mental health screenings and arming teachers are other ideas. Regardless, the time has come to work together and find a solution.

That’s what the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are doing. On Saturday, March 24, they and their families arrived in Washington, D.C. with 500,000 other American students carrying signs that read things like “Protect kids, not guns.”

Funded in part by Oprah Winfrey and other big name celebrities, the goal of the March For Our Lives is to prevent future tragedies by holding our leaders accountable. According to their website, they are demanding that “their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools.”

Ann Cummings, a deputy chairman of Chester County Gun Sense, applauds their efforts.  She and her fellow members educate the public on the dangers and problems that stem from firearms.

“Gun violence is such a heated topic and many people don’t even want to talk about it,” said Cummings. Despite it seeming like a great divide, research shows that “there is a 97 percent support rate for background checks before every gun purchase [in Pennsylvania]. Yet, we do not have this,” she stated.

But one thing is for sure: Nothing will change—no strides will be made until we all say enough is enough. In our country, everything begins and ends with We the People.

Like our forefathers, it is our time to act, and return our classrooms, churches, streets and malls to safety.  We have a common goal: stop violence in America.

We can all start by doing something, anything. This includes things like talking about gun control with our friends, voting, contacting our elected officials and asking them to act, attending a Gun Sense meeting and finding out more, helping those struggling with mental illness, supporting change on social media or showing up to marches and rallies.

If you went to the March for Our Lives, you saw swarms of protestors gathered on the lawn between Madison and Jefferson Drives.

They were not hard to spot—500,000 strong with 14 jumbotrons, special guests and motivational speakers, musical performances and a big mission to make America safe again.

Christopher Sheehan is a fourth-year student majoring in professional studies with concentrations in journalism and graphic design. ✉

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