When Prayers Are Not Enough
I have never felt strongly connected to god or a higher power. Since I was a kid, I saw religion as a community but the faith aspect never resonated with me. Despite this, I recognize that, to many who are religious, sending prayers is one of the greatest shows of empathy and respect. But there comes a point when prayers are not enough. When the people in power have the ability to take action but only send prayers, it’s not enough. In the seemingly endless cycle of gun violence, it’s not enough.
On February 14th, a 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed 17 people at the Florida school and injured many more. The event was tragic and unnecessary but to many, not shocking. The shooter had a history of mental instability and violent actions. I could recount the events in gruesome detail and lay out the series of events but this story has been told countless times. I choose instead to focus on the dialogue surrounding mass shootings in this country.
After the attack, President Trump assured that, “Our entire nation with one heavy heart is praying for the victims and their families”. This “thoughts and prayers” style discourse runs rampant after each mass shooting. Politicians pledge their support and empathy to those affected but are hesitant to discuss, let alone take, real action. The inflammatory language surrounding the gun control debate undermines the objective of the conversation and instead turns it into a party versus party issue.
Gun owners are afraid to relinquish what they see as their unalienable right to bear arms. To some, shootings like this only intensify the need for as many “good guys” to be armed as possible as a self defense mechanism. Although people's fears should not be invalidated, it is not enough to preach unity and second amendment rights when other supposably “unalienable” rights, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are being cut violently and abruptly short for tens of thousands of people in the US per year. Every year hundreds of deaths are accidents caused by these “good guys” with guns, and thousands more are caused intentionally— we just don't hear about them. Mass shootings are often followed by mass media coverage and therefore people tend to forget about the scores of people killed by other forms of gun violence.
Many supporters of gun control thought that one such highly publicized event, the death of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, would finally change this terribly repetitive cycle of violence, grief, anger, and inaction. Former president Obama fostered that hope by responding to the shooting with a call for action imploring the country to, “come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics.” That hope was illusory as 1,607 mass shootings have occurred since then, and there has been an average of one school shooting a week since 2013.
Although that call to action was unsuccessful at the time, it was a step toward a change that may finally be coming. The conversation about gun control since the Florida shooting on valentine's day has shifted, and it is largely due to the teenagers that witnessed it firsthand. They are refusing to let this recent act of violence follow the same pattern as those before it, by organizing walk outs, rallies, and marches all over the country.
As a student, having this issue swept under the rug time and time again feels like a personal affront. These are the lives of our friends at schools around the country, and of teachers that have helped us get where we are today. This is the lives of my parents, both teachers, and the lives of the hundreds of campers I helped take care of all summer. Lives that are worth more than a few thoughts and prayers.