Students rally at the Capitol in solidarity with those affected by the shooting in Parkland, Florida, February 21, 2018. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)
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This article was originally published as a letter to the editor in the University of South Florida’s student newspaper, The Oracle. The writer graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2016. It is reposted here with permission.
I come to you all today with a heavy heart and an infuriated soul. On Wednesday, February 14, I was walking out of my apartment in Tampa to go to class. My friend, Caitlyn, stopped me in my tracks to show me something that her mother sent her. The headline read, “Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; Parkland, Florida.”
This story was produced for Student Nation, a section devoted to highlighting campus activism and student movements from students in their own words. For more Student Nation, check out our archive. Are you a student with a campus activism story? Send questions and pitches to Samantha Schuyler at email@example.com.
I stopped in my tracks, unsure of how to react. I then walked on, unbelieving of what I’d read. What are you supposed to do when the place you spent four years of your life in is “under attack?” They didn’t teach me that in school.
Once I got to my class I tuned on the live feed, plugged in my headphones and watched as my professor lectured in the background. This was around 3:30 p.m., so word had not gotten around to everyone quite yet. The live feed was interrupted by a phone call from my brother in California. “Zoe, did you hear about Douglas?”
“Yeah, I’m watching the live feed now.”
“Are you okay?”
To this, I said, “Of course.” It definitely had not hit me yet. I got off the phone and went to go home. Then the numbers came out. Seventeen students and teachers were killed in a school I graduated from less than two years ago.
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Writing this five days later, I thought waiting would help. I believed I would be able to calm down and clear my head before sharing my thoughts and feelings on this issue. Boy, was I wrong.
I went to a vigil in Tampa on Wednesday night, Feb. 14. Talking about what happened and reminiscing with MSD alum about our time in high school finally made it real for me. My home had been hit. My community, attacked. The place I felt so safe in was the place where 17 people were murdered.
It’s one thing seeing videos of shootings unrelated to yourself and saying, “Oh my God, that is awful.” It’s another thing seeing videos of shootings inside classrooms and auditoriums that you remember sitting, learning and laughing in. You don’t fully understand until you have no choice but to understand.
This past weekend, I went to Nashville with my family for the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. While I should have been focused solely on her, I was sick to my stomach the entire trip. I felt uneasy, like I needed to do something. Talking to my family I expressed how I felt like there was nothing I could do. I’m no politician. I’m no yellow-haired male living in a big white house. What was there for me to do? What I had learned was so much.
There are petitions, marches, rallies, protests, social media posts and so, so much more. For those of you on college campuses, you are in one of the best places to make things happen. You have 30,000+ people you could easily reach.
No one should ever feel unsafe going to school. School is supposed to be a safe space. A space of learning, friendship and love. And yet, schools are one of the most targeted places for shootings. I read that out of the 18 shootings that have happened in 2018, the MSD shooting was the 11th that occurred on school property. The actions, or lack thereof, of the older generations are killing the younger ones. How is that fair?
Like I said in the beginning, I not only have a heavy heart, but I have an infuriated soul. I am mad. Parkland has gotten mad. Florida has gotten mad. America needs to get mad. Things need to change. An 18-year-old boy should not be able to buy a death machine like it’s a bag of chips.
One of the reasons the drinking age is 21 is because our brains are not fully developed until then. What I don’t understand is why our brains don’t need to be fully developed in order to buy a weapon that has the power to take lives.
Let’s dip our toe into the touchy subject of mental illness in relation to gun violence. As someone who has studied mental illness and has done research on how it affects gun violence, I must throw my opinion into the universe. Mental illness is not the end-all-be-all reason a boy like Nickolas walks into a high school and murders 17 people. And he sure as heck should not be prosecuted any less because of his mental illness. The majority of people with a mental illness are functioning members of society. The majority of people with a mental illness would never even contemplate violence, much less shooting up a school.
Here’s one 20-year-old student’s opinion on what needs to be done. In the short run,
Laws need to be put in place in order to make it much more difficult for anyone over the age of at least 21 to buy any type of gun. No one under 21 should be able to get their hands on a gun. The banning of semi-automatic guns entirely. No civilian needs a gun created to kill other civilians.
Now, I understand that the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, but this was ratified in 1791. From what I’ve read, the first automatic handgun was introduced in 1892, over 100 years after the Bill of Rights was ratified. It is now 2018, and I can guarantee you that the guns that our Founding Fathers had in mind were something to laugh at in comparison to what is around today.
I am a firm believer in the revision of the Second Amendment. I know that changing the laws is one of the only ways to prevent another shooting. It’s one way to prevent more lives being lost.
There’s a picture going around that has the words “thoughts & prayers” crossed out and replaced by “policy and change.” All of the “thoughts and prayers” in the world will not bring back the 17 people that were taken from us on Feb. 14. All of the “thoughts and prayers” in the world won’t make those in the school unsee and unfeel the things they experienced. All of the “thoughts and prayers” in the world won’t make America listen. The only way to make this situation any better is the implementation of policy and change in order to prevent it from ever happening again.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is more than just a school. This fact is shown through the way the community came together so quickly to aid each other and make sure this never happens again. I am so proud to call Douglas my home. We may be small, but we will make a difference. You messed with the wrong community. You’re about to get our horns.
There are countless ways to become part of the fight. Together, we can make sure no one, no school, no community again has to go through what we have gone through. To all of my alum, students and faculty out there: Never forget to be positive, be passionate and be proud to be an Eagle. Always and forever #MSDStrong