By Kaitlyn Tully
I was born December of the year 2000. I was just nine months old when the first mass attack on human lives took place during my lifetime. On September 11th, 2001 I could not yet walk. I was only able to string a few words together. I was too young to remember where I was, who I was with or what I was doing at the time of the attack. Older generations will always tell us they remember all of that. I don’t know if we do.
I don’t remember where I was or how exactly I learned of the last fifteen mass shootings or terrorist attacks I have lived through. From the moment we were brought onto this earth, my generation has been the one brought up with mass shootings. Since the time I was born, the United States has had 223 school shootings.
We have been the children watching other children die at the hands of these murderers.
We have gone to school every day after other schools were attacked. We do not think of ourselves as brave because this is just something that happens. This is, as one of my mother’s seven-year-old students told her, “just life.” We’re just kids, but as kids, we’ve learned that we have to keep going.
We have to keep living for those who can’t.
When we go into our classrooms we don’t see them as possible crime scenes until the question of whether or not they could be is brought up. We don’t look at our peers as dangerous unless they themselves hint they might be, and even then we laugh it off because it’s normal for us now. We’ve been so desensitized that we don’t realize it until a school shooting is on the news again. Then we talk quietly about it. We talk about how unbelievable it is. We do nothing for a few days but talk about it. We talk about what could have been done, what we would do if it happened here, and how important it is to notice the signs. It isn’t our everyday thought that our school could be next. It’s just a fact that we have learned is a part of life.
While the adults in our lives talked about politics, we were the ones that had to grow up with the thought at the back of our heads that we had to accept that these things happen. As we got older, we were handed smartphones. That was when we became part of the discussion.
I think half my generation is hopeful that things will change if we decide to change them. The other half doesn’t believe things can change no matter what we do. Either way, we all know better than to think things will change on their own. We are too used to them to think that mass shootings will stop because everyone knows they’re bad. Everyone knows they’re horrible and tragic, and yet they happen at an unprecedented rate.
We’re done with thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers do not shield from bullets. Now we’re angry.
I’m angry because when I heard of the most recent school shooting, in Florida, on Valentine’s Day, my first thought was, “Ugh, another one?” It is absolutely insane that this isn’t absolutely insane anymore. I am angry because this type of thing has become a cycle. In two weeks, people will forget. There will be no more news reports from Parkland. The names of the 17 victims will be hard for us to remember.
We have asked the adults to listen to the facts; the fact that politicians are bought out by the NRA and that after Australia banned guns in 1996, they did not have another mass shooting. Adults will not listen. They just continue to act like we do not know what we are talking about. They blame gun violence on social media and violent video games. Some of that might be the cause – I am not saying that those don’t contribute a little – but they are only part of the story.
I think the real problem is that we’ve made it into an unbroken cycle. I think that once we decided that five and six year-olds were part of this cycle of loss, we decided that school shootings were just something that happens. Our politicians looked at Sandy Hook. They prayed for the first graders whose lives were lost, and thought: “What a sicko. It stinks that we can’t do anything about this.” Meanwhile, potential shooters would look at that and think: “Well if he can pull that off, anything is possible.”
I remember what I thought about Sandy Hook. I was eleven. My little brother was in first grade, and in an elementary school just like his, just under three hours away from where he went to school, kids his age were killed. I remember at first I thought this was normal, and then: “That could have been Joey.” Suddenly it was immediately real and different from all the school shootings I had heard about.
Once it’s real to you it isn’t normal anymore.
A year and a half ago in Orlando, young LGBTQ+ people were specifically gunned down on Latinx night at the Pulse nightclub. There, it became real again. One of my best friends, a proud Puerto Rican bisexual wept for days at the losses in what was the largest mass shooting in America’s history at the time. My friends and I would sit in silence on the bus ride home, shocked and mourning members of our community so far away from us.
Since then, I’ve become more involved in the discussion about gun control and about mass shootings. We all agree it has to stop but we keep the cycle rolling. This has been our normal for too long. Not anymore.
Young people have led all of our greatest movements. We acknowledge that we can make a difference. I think it is way past time for the adults in our lives acknowledge that too.
Kaitlyn Tully is seventeen years old and a junior at Norfolk County Agricultural High School where she studies horticulture. She is also involved with musical theater, writing, and art (mostly painting and photography). You can follow her on twitter @kaittullyy.