Today, February 14th 2019, marks one year since 17 people were killed, 14 of them students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I would like to share with you a letter written by Jaclyn Corin, a senior at the school and the founder of March For Our Lives. The letter was published yesterday in the New York Times.
When I arrived at school on Feb. 14, 2018, like any junior, I was mostly caught up in Valentine’s Day chatter and events. But that all changed in the space of a few minutes that afternoon when a gunman opened fire on my classmates and my teachers, killing 17 of them and injuring just as many.
Despite the countless tragedies you see on TV, nothing prepares you for the day it happens to your community.
The familiar images of students fleeing their school as SWAT teams entered, of parents waiting by the perimeter desperately praying to get their kids back, were now my reality. They were my classmates and friends, too many of whom never came home.
After the shooting, my friends at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I decided we couldn’t sit by as school shootings and gun violence became a normal part of life in America. We were determined to turn an act of violence into a movement, to do everything we could to send a powerful message to the country and to Washington.
There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of the shooting. When I hear the sound of sirens or fireworks, I’m taken back to that horrific afternoon. For me, Valentine’s Day will now forever be a reminder of loss.
Yet our community isn’t alone in its tragedy. In 2017, nearly 40,000 Americans died as a result of guns, an average of 109 people a day. And according to a tally from Education Week, there were 24 school shootings that resulted in gun-related deaths or injuries in 2018 alone.
While several states have taken positive legislative measures in response, there have been zero bipartisan investigations or new laws from Congress.
Not a single federal law has been passed since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 to address the crisis of school shootings. This year could be different — but only if we organize and insist on it.
Last week, Congress held its first hearing on gun violence prevention since 2011. This week, the House Judiciary Committee is poised to approve a bipartisan bill to requiring background checks for all gun purchases, a proposal that represents one important step toward keeping deadly firearms out of the wrong hands. However, it’s also likely this bill won’t get a hearing, let alone a vote, in the Senate.
That chamber’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, needs to explain to all of us who have survived a shooting or lost someone to gun violence why the Senate won’t even vote on such a bill even though there’s been over half a million gun deaths since 2000, the year I was born.
And Americans should truly reckon with why this epidemic of gun deaths is treated so differently from any other health crisis in our country.
Imagine for a moment that all these gun deaths were caused by something else widely feared: airplane crashes. There’s no universe in which we wouldn’t see it as a national emergency worthy of our undivided attention.
In fact, 2017 was a remarkable year in aviation. No one died in a commercial airplane crash, meaning it was safer for me to fly than it was for me to go to high school. It would take hundreds of completely full Boeing 737 flights crashing without survivors to total the number of people who died by guns in America in just 2017.
If even a handful of such crashes occurred, the government would declare a national emergency. All 737s would be grounded, there would be an independent commission created to investigate the crisis, and Boeing would be called before Congress to answer for its failures.
So why then don’t more than 30,000 gun deaths in a year rise to the level of a national crisis for America’s conservative leaders?
The past year has been one with the deepest of lows and, at times, the highest of highs — moments when the hope that springs from fighting for a better world makes anything feel possible. On Thursday, the anniversary of the shooting, I will be in the only place that matters, nestled in my community and with my family.
And for the next four days, the organization I helped found, March For Our Lives, will go dark to honor those we lost and their memory.
I am deeply proud of all that my friends and I have accomplished in the last year. Still, I can’t help but wonder why so many lawmakers are ignoring — and, at their worst, enabling — the horrific gun deaths that occur in our country each day.
In the year since the Parkland tragedy, nearly 1,200 more children have lost their lives to guns in this country. When do we say, “Enough!!!”? When do we put the lives of our children ahead of politics and corporate greed? The sign above says it all … “Choose Me, Not Guns”.