VOICES
23/02/2018 00:25 SAST

I Am A Survivor Of The Florida School Shooting And I Have A Message For America

Courtesy of Alexis Tracton

I am 15 years old, a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a survivor of the mass shooting last week.

I am all over the place: I am angry and I am sad. There is no I Survived a School Shooting but My Friends Are Gone Forever handbook. There is no guide on how to tread these waters.

I’ve been practicing active shooter drills since before I could read and write. Why is it that children must learn how to hide in closets and under desks to shield themselves from being shot? I know this answer. It’s because guns are the symbol of American freedom. In this country, guns are ubiquitous. So I want to know, are guns more important even than my classmates’ lives?

I never thought this could happen in my world. I never took those drills seriously. I would laugh and snicker with my friends while we crouched under desks, pretending to be in the midst of a shooting. Pretending that bullets were aimed at us. The teachers would shush us, and I would roll my eyes, thinking to myself, This will never come in handy because this will never happen.

In my safe town, a monster proved me wrong. I refuse to write his name because he is a monster, and that’s it. He’s just a monster, not a broken child. 

Call him a broken child and you are forgetting that we are the broken children. The children who will never be the same. The children who will replay the shooting over and over again in our heads. Call him a broken child to the students who watched their friends and teachers die. Call him a broken child to the families and friends who lost someone on Valentine’s Day. Call him a broken child and you will be wrong.

The pain that my community is feeling is vast. But now there’s this impetus inside us, moving us to speak up for those we have lost, because that’s what they would have wanted. That’s what they would have done.

When you speak up, I’m learning that either nobody will listen or the whole world will open their ears. We’re going to be so loud and so persistent that the world will have no choice but to listen.

The pain that my community is feeling is vast. But now there’s this impetus inside us, moving us to speak up for those we have lost, because that’s what they would have wanted. That’s what they would have done.

Still, we know that because this tragedy has given us a national platform, our opponents will come out strong. There is a polarizing gap between those who stand with us and those who are against us. Those who are opposed to gun reform are terrified of our voices.

To have a fighting chance against us, they’re pulling out all of the stops ― even if that means labeling us “crisis actors.” It is unbelievably frustrating to see the teens at the forefront of our movement be stamped as fakers, because I know these people. I’ve heard these brilliant minds speak before. It is hard to attend Stoneman Douglas High without seeing Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg or Cameron Kasky around. They are extremely active within our school community, and it’s no surprise that they are the leaders of this movement. They may be in crisis, like all of us at our school, but they are not actors.

Those who are spreading these lies have a following, and some of those followers blindly disparage these teens without looking for supporting information. And in some sense, I can identify with them. They have lost so much faith in our government that they’re searching for an answer in places where an answer cannot be found. Nowadays, Republicans don’t want to speak with Democrats, and Democrats don’t want to speak with Republicans. The result is two isolated groups ready to assume that everything is a fallacy orchestrated by the other party for their own gain. There seems to be no common ground, and from there grows this idea that Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and other students at my school have been “paid by the left” to oppose the Second Amendment.

To those who are offering such ludicrous theories, I want to sarcastically say, “Yes, I am a crisis actor. My friends are crisis dead. I attended crisis funerals.”

Let those people believe what they want to believe. We are too strong to let the lies derail our movement. It is not worth our energy to entertain them when we can be talking face to face with senators and representatives about real action.

To those who are offering such ludicrous theories, I want to sarcastically say, 'Yes, I am a crisis actor. My friends are crisis dead. I attended crisis funerals.'

I know that the road to effective gun reform is a long and bumpy one. There are so many ideas swirling around on how to prevent this kind of massacre from happening again. The consensus in my community is that security in schools needs to be improved; that there must be rigorous classes, tests and psychological checks before anyone can purchase and own a gun; and that assault weapons must be taken off our streets.

President Donald Trump has suggested that arming teachers is one way to tackle the issue. But there are so many problems with this idea. During a shooting, it would be difficult for law enforcement to tell the difference between a teacher with a gun and the actual shooter. What happens if an angry student steals a gun from a teacher? What happens if a teacher is so stressed and aggravated that they just snap and fire at their students?

Teachers are already under a monumental amount of pressure on a daily basis. They have to come up with exciting ways to teach their students, manage restless teens, meet administrative demands, and even purchase their own paper and pencils because public schools are so underfunded. Why should a teacher have to go through extensive firearms training on top of that? It’s hard enough to just teach ― it is simply not a teacher’s job to wield a gun too.

I just came back from a beautiful vigil held for two of my classmates who lost their lives. The choir sang “Like an Eagle,” the traditional song sung at a Stoneman Douglas graduation. The students who died on Valentine’s Day will never get to hear this song, because they will never graduate. They will never smile again. Laugh again. Cry again. These words from the song really stuck with me: “I will fly to places yet unseen. Go beyond my wildest dreams. Know that you are watching over me.” I promise my classmates and teachers that I will live for them. I will smile for them. I will laugh for them. I will cry for them. I will fight for them.

This shooting could mark a turning point for our democracy, the moment when the facades of the truly corrupt politicians crack.

Before the shooting, I was not unfamiliar with death. My mother passed away from cancer. I attended her funeral when I was 7, and now I attend my friends’ funerals when I am 15. But just because I have dealt with death before doesn’t make the new pain any easier. Because I have seen death before, I know that it never really leaves you. The ones you lost are always in the back of your mind, and sometimes you’ll see something that reminds you of them and you’ll suddenly break down. It could be years from now and I could be crying. I could be at my high school graduation and crying. I could be at work and crying. I could be in class a week from now and crying.

We are already crying for the government to do something. When the government is holding hands with the National Rifle Association, it’s hard to believe that they care. It’s hard to believe that they’re going to take action and change the law.

But this shooting could mark a turning point for our democracy, the moment when the facades of the truly corrupt politicians crack. The American people will learn which lawmakers are really “by the people” and “for the people.”

Once we see who prefers the NRA’s money over the lives of this country’s children, our most important civic duty will be to vote. We must rip the NRA’s hands off our government. We must show them that our kids are worth more than a gun. We must make this the last time some monster brings a loaded weapon on campus and claims 17 lives ― or even a single life.