Within a ten day span from April 27 to May 7, there were three mass shootings. One at a synagogue in Poway, California, one at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and most recently, one at a prep school in Colorado. All three had the same storyline, a shooter walks in, and begins to fire into a crowd, while a single person in the crowd sacrifices themselves and charges the shooter. They ended greater bloodshed, but at an unacceptable price.
The ultimate sacrifice made by Lori Gilbert-Kaye, Riley Howell, and Kendrick Castillo represent much more than the cost of extremism and unchecked radicalization. They represent a broken system and a burden held by the most vulnerable in America instead of the institutions that are supposed to ensure our safety.
The perversion of what we expect as Americans, going to school, going to houses of worship, going to concerts or stepping into almost any other public setting is not normal. The explosion of hate-filled, fear-inducing shootings in America should never be accepted as the norm. Sadly, we are at the point where constant tragedy ingrains itself as part of the backgrounds of our lives. This new chapter in American life is also training younger generations of Americans to expect and think of scenarios that should never be a worry.
During the Colorado school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, while two shooters murdered Kendrick Castillo and injured eight others, a sixth grade class prepared for the worst. Some students cried. However, Nate Holley, who went viral for his CNN interview detailing what had happened, grabbed a metal baseball bat and thought, “I was gonna go down fighting.” Where are we as a society to have our next generations think like that? The only concern we should have when we go to school is our education, not our safety. Our safety should be a steadfast non-variable, not fleeting.
The reality is, however, our safety is fleeting. Unfortunately, while our way of life dietoriates, no one in power seems to be putting a legitimate effort forward towards doing anything about the root of the problem, gun control. In the wake of New Zealand’s terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch that left forty-nine dead, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to change their gun laws. Interestingly enough, New Zealand, in fact, is quite like us. They have one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world and one of the most relaxed set of laws regarding gun ownership. However, compared to the United States, even their gun laws are strict as they require gun owners to carry a specific grade level license. New Zealand went even further in the Christchurch aftermath, outlawing semi-automatic and assault rifles and initiating a buyback and amnesty program. The sudden, direct response to their crisis as well as unconditional support from their government is jarring compared to what happens here. The only action that the Trump administration promises to pursue is thoughts and prayers, which are needed as a support system, but is not a sufficient answer. After the consistent, yearly attacks on our schools and other “safe” spaces, there is a trend to follow and a call to action. His administration and Congress have largely ignored that call and will be remembered as complicit.
Our leaders are failing us. As we continue to live without meaningful action, 136 people have died in mass shootings and 456 have been wounded. That now, unsurprising number pales in comparison to the over 2,000 events classified as mass shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012. For students, for worshippers, and for every American, it feels sometimes like we are living in a battle zone. A battle zone mentality comes with new behaviors that we usually associate with unsafe environments: armed security guards, metal detectors in houses of worship, active shooter drills for little kids and the unshakeable dread that our space could be next.
These measures cannot be the solution and we especially cannot be trained to run, hide, or fight in spaces that are supposed to be a refuge. The real solution, instead of training us for tragedy, is to ban semi-automatic and assault rifles and introduce gun licenses in addition to a background check. If we get rid of these guns, we get rid of the AR-15, which has been used in the deadliest mass shootings in American history: Aurora, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando and San Bernadino among others. The AR-15, which has been dubbed “America’s rifle” by the National Rifle Association, is intrinsically tied to these shootings and offers no real benefits to Americans. Stricter gun laws will not target hand guns or simple hunting rifles, instead, they will target a class of guns that is capable of causing massive destruction in a short period of time.
Adjustments will be hard for us, as they always are. However, these growing pains are necessary to retain our free, safe way of life. Or, we could maintain a blank face in the face of a mass shooting and they will continue to happen. Until we do something, no one can say they are safe, and that in itself is a tragedy.