‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Just Won’t Cut It Anymore
Last week, I got off work and sat down to eat dinner in the cafeteria and went on my phone for the first time all day. I logged onto Twitter to find that there had been another school shooting in a high school in Texas, Santa Fe High School. 10 people were killed.
I was immediately filled with sorrow for those that had died at the hands of yet another troubled young student with a gun in his hands. News like that always makes my heart drop into my stomach and my fingers turn cold.
After a second, I realized that although I was sad, I was completely unsurprised. I had known that Parkland was not going to be the last school shooting—why would things change if no actual change is being made?
I was so upset by the lack of shock that I felt until I realized that I am only a product of my environment. I have been so desensitized to those who die to gun violence that I am no longer shocked by it. I have become accustomed to flags at half-mast and reactionary “thoughts and prayers” tweets from those appointed to make sure these things don’t happen. And, frankly, after years and years of mass shootings, why would I be surprised?
As disgusting as it is, my lack of shock at another school shooting is completely normal. Some survivors of this most recent shooting even said themselves that they knew it was only a matter of time.
And that’s not normal. Being able to shrug off a mass shooting as “sad but, what else happened today?” is not a normal thing that happens in other countries. After seeing the headlines, I continued to scroll through Twitter and eat my stir-fry as I would have on any other day, rather than putting my phone down and losing my appetite, which is what mass murder usually does to people.
Now, for those of you who have never logged onto a social media site in the aftermath of a shooting, you may not be well acquainted with the posts of this vernacular that I referred to earlier: “Thoughts and Prayers” posts.
After a shooting takes place, many of those who are in office tweet things like this:
These tweets are, at the very least, very polite and a good thing to do when a large group of people has just died. Unfortunately, these sorts of posts are usually just about the end of action when it comes to gun violence for many politicians; many representatives go right back to their jobs after tweeting things like this and do nothing real to attempt to try and fix the problem.
The thing that you might be confused about here is obvious, I know because I am too. Why are they sending thoughts and prayers to those who are dead and injured when they could just send policy through Congress and end this mess? Why are they sending thoughts and prayers when they could reform gun laws and ensure the safety of the public for the foreseeable future?
Now, prayers are fine and dandy if you believe in that kind of stuff. But when you are an elected official who is being paid as such and is able to make necessary change, why aren’t you? Elected officials and (ahem) the President of the United States should be doing more to change this awful trend than tweeting that they’re praying for victims and survivors the same. They should be doing all that they can to change it. But they’re not.
Now, believe it or not, we do have an idea as to why those we have chosen to keep us safe are so miserably failing, and the answer (isn’t it always?) is money.
Many politicians receive payouts and campaign help from the NRA, the association of gun nuts and rednecks many of us have come to despise in recent months. These payouts are substantial and come at the cost of gun reform never being pushed through congress, bringing promises of re-election for a few senators. Some senators seem to value money more than American lives. Do any of the names on these lists look familiar?
Here’s the thing, I kept putting off this article because I was afraid that it wouldn’t be relevant enough; I thought it was too long after the Parkland shooting and then it was too soon after the Santa Fe shooting, and then the longer I waited after the Sante Fe shooting, I could feel the content losing relevance day by day.
We as a country seem to move on fairly fast after shootings, in regards to media (and, subsequently, all the rest of our) attention. And that’s when I realized something.
We have reached a point in this country where our flags are permanently at half-mast and we are in permanent mourning of those taken from us too soon by gun violence. An article like this is always going to be relevant because we have shootings every week. The hard truth is that this article will still be relevant in a few weeks when there’s another shooting. It will still be relevant when, after the tragic shooting, change has still not been made.
And there is so much to be done in gun reform, we are not option-less by any means in this regard. We need better background checks so that those with criminal records and histories of domestic abuse and violence are not able to buy firearms. We need a ban on AR-15 weapons for civilians. Assault rifles are as easy to buy as a new rug on Amazon, and what civilian really needs an assault rifle for hunting? We need to close the “gun show loophole,” which allows unlicensed sellers to sell firearms to those underage and those with criminal records under the table.
And these are just the things I was able to wrap my head around in a few hours. There are plenty of other things needing attention that are far more complicated, I’m just giving you a starting line.
And then after that, we need to start fixing the way we view and treat mental illness in America as well as addressing toxic masculinity as a legitimate problem and not just a term made up by raging feminists (but that’s a whole nother article).
I’m going to get real here. I am so mad. I am so mad at my government that refuses to value the lives of American people, the lives of my family, friends, and coworkers over the value of money in their pockets. I am mad at those at the NRA for continuing to spew lies and misinformation about the way guns and their laws work in America and for continuing to treat guns as if they are accessories and fun toys to play with and not machines capable of taking human lives (ever heard of NRA TV?). I am so sick of being afraid of people I see on the street and afraid while standing behind the counter at work and while sitting in class. I am sick and tired of being afraid of a gunman armed with an assault rifle storming into my classroom and taking my life or the lives of those sitting around me.
These are not things I should have to be worrying about. I should not be afraid of rogue gunmen in my daily life. Not as a sophomore in college, not as an American citizen, and not as a person. I should not be afraid of walking into my school and never walking out of it. I should not have to be afraid at the airport. Or at music festivals. Or at Waffle House.
And, since high schools are the setting where the most shootings have happened over the years, how does it sit well with congresspeople, the NRA, and everybody else sitting on their hands in crisis that this is what students in America are trained for from the day we start kindergarten. Even those students lucky enough to have never experienced a shooting know what an “intruder drill” is. Every student in America has had to scrunch up against the wall out of view of the door while their teacher turned the lock and shut out the lights. Every student knows what it is to wait there for ten minutes in stifled giggles and murmurs until the principal came back on the loudspeaker, ending the drill, and sending everyone back to their desks.
Each mass shooting we saw, every time we watched on TV while mothers wept over their dead kids and students sobbed over their lost classmates, the intruder drills became more real. With each tragedy we saw play out in schools that looked and sounded and probably smelled just like ours, the drills became less and less of a joke. The laughter faded away as every student imagined a real intruder, holding a gun far too big to fit in a locker and wondering what they would do if they were faced with that reality.
How can you live with yourself as a person capable of making change that will save lives when every student in every school in America is, on some level, terrified of going to school, aware of and petrified by the thought that today it could be their school on the news.
No more. Enough.
It’s time to make change, Congress. Your move.