By Marguerite Jill Dye
How have we come to this point, America, that students who cowered in closets and classrooms, beside murdered classmates and coaches, must lead the charge to bring sense to our laws? How have we come to be represented by leaders who solely represent the NRA? How have we sunk so low that children must look out for children because adults have failed them?
In the wake of America’s most recent mass shooting, thoughts and prayers are not enough. After growing up with code red drills in a society that has allowed gun violence to become the status quo, the “mass shooting generation” has reached its limit. The courageous, determined, eloquent survivors of the tragedy in Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School are leading the charge as they grieve for their 17 friends and coaches. They are leading us into the new American Revolution through school walkouts, protests against Washington‘s paralysis, and their campaign called “Never Again.”
They’ve set out to tame our wild nation and change America’s gun laws.
First on the agenda is changing the availability of automatic and semi-automatic guns like the AR-15, a weapon of war, exclusively built to kill as many people as possible. Being shot by an AR-15 “smashes organs like a sledgehammer” and there is “no fighting chance for its victims,” according to Dr. Shea in Parkland’s trauma center where the dead and injured arrived.
But guns are big business in America where their profit outranks people, including America’s children. Since the NRA has funded many candidates including President Trump to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, their grip on the GOP has remained tight… until now? Brian Schatz, Senator from Hawaii, declared that “we must defeat them, not make a deal with them!” This is most certainly easier said than done, but the students of Stoneman Douglas High School are taking on that challenge. Trump’s response to their questions, in a controlled televised meeting, included raising the age of semi-automatic weapon purchasers from 18 to 21, against the NRA’s unyielding stance. But Trump is also calling for 20 percent of America’s teachers to be trained and armed with weapons in the schools. He wants to “harden our softened schools.” Teachers, he suggested, could be given a small bonus for risking their lives. He says he wants them to be highly skilled—but in what? Shooting or teaching?
According to the Violence Policy Center, arming teachers and school personnel has extremely dangerous consequences. At Columbine, trained armed guards were unable to stop the attack, ensuing massacre, or suicide. An armed school resource officer and county deputy futilely fired shots at the perpetrator. One study reported that only 20 percent of shots fired by highly trained law enforcement officers hit their [moving] targets. Unable to successfully use their service weapons, 21 percent of officers killed were shot with their own service weapons. According to an FBI study, 46.7 percent of active shooter engagements resulted in police officers being wounded or killed. And the highly skilled deputy resource officer at Stoneman Douglas High, as it turned out, waited outside with his loaded gun until the attack was over and police had secured the building.
But arming 700,000 American teachers would be very profitable for weapons manufacturers and the NRA.
Teachers are not soldiers. Teachers are trained to teach and care for the children, keep them calm, and together. “Teachers need to teach, students need to learn, and law enforcement officials need to secure,” said a father whose 14-year-old daughter was shot in the back while fleeing down the hall from the AR-15 shooter.
“Why are we as a country allowing the NRA to dictate policy?” teacher Mary Ann Jacob asked. “Background checks, safe storage, and laws that prevent weapons from getting into the hands of unqualified owners are all steps that need to be taken.”
I spoke with a student, Lena Novak-Laird of New College. She said, “When kids don’t fit into our societies’ authoritarian structure, they are told they are dumb, can’t succeed, and can’t exist in this society’s or in our world.”
Disabilities, mental health challenges, behavioral problems, poverty, and homelessness contribute to a feeling of not being valued and not belonging. “We live in a patriarchy and are taught to be objective and to distance ourselves from emotions, when we should be learning about alternatives to violence and how to communicate properly,” she added, suggesting that students thrive when yoga, meditation, mindfulness and an awareness of their environment are added to their studies.
“Schools look like prisons,” she observed. Students need choices that empower them, she said.
March 24, students from around the nation will join the survivors of America’s latest mass shooting in their march on Washington.
They embody America’s new revolutionary spirit as they think for themselves and strive to create a utopia where our children will be safe in school and thrive in a flourishing communities.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Gulf Coast of Florida.