On occasion, SD41 publishes guest blogs. This is the story of Raina Meyer. She’s a Member of the Minnesota Youth Council and a Student at St Catherine’s University. Her account is both riveting and inspiring, and we at SD41 are eternally grateful that she chose to share her story with us.
On Valentine’s Day, while I was in school, I got an alert on my phone that read, “17 Killed in Florida School Shooting.” Later that day, I received a video clip from a friend which showed a friend of hers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lying dead in a pool of his own blood while his classmates screamed in terror during the chaos of the active shooting. This was such a terrifying thing to view, even though it happened nearly 2,000 miles away from me. I was shocked to learn recently that since Columbine, more than 150,000 children have survived similar mass school shootings. This is entirely unacceptable and, I believe, largely preventable.
In this country, we’ve grown accustomed to losing children to killing machines that were designed to be used by soldiers at war. And we, our nation’s children, are expected to sit in school, trying to learn, trying to pretend that everything is normal, when there’s a terrifying reality constantly weighing on us. Because this has become so normal, so accepted, we’re always waiting with baited breath until the next massacre.
But what if we didn’t have to? Is that such a radical idea? Going to school without worries of dying or seeing our friends, teachers, or coaches die, knowing that we’re safe from harm? Our biggest worry should be whether we’re going to do well on an upcoming test or term paper. Not whether we’ll be alive to return home to our families at the end of the day.
This is not such a radical idea. The people who would like to continue to profit from the nearly unfettered sales of assault weapons to anyone willing to purchase them would like us to believe that these killings are just an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. However, no other country on earth suffers through the number of mass shootings that we do, not even close. Other countries have figured this out, and we can, too. In fact, we did partially figure this out…for about a decade. During the assault weapons ban from 1994-2004, both the number of mass shooting incidents and total body counts declined significantly. After the ban ended, the number of mass shootings nearly tripled in the decade that followed, and the number of people killed more than tripled. This should be a no-brainer.
Americans know better than to settle for this any longer. I believe we have reached a tipping point with this latest massacre. Actually, we would have reached this point much, much earlier, if some of our politicians weren’t so easily influenced by NRA money. However, I feel that influence is waning as our voices grow stronger and more insistent that we will no longer settle for this horrific status quo. I was at the Protect Minnesota rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on February 22nd, just a week after the massacre in Parkland. The energy was electric, and the voices deafening with outrage and incredible resolve. After leaving the Capitol, my mom and I drove to Eden Prairie, where we joined a large group of protesters outside Erik Paulsen’s office protesting his acceptance of NRA campaign contributions. Hundreds of people driving by honked their horns, cheered us on and raised their fists out of their windows in solidarity. Only one driver gave us the middle finger; it appears the odds are in our favor.
After the Parkland shooting, I became curious about how my friends from around the globe feel in their schools, so I asked them. My friend, Sofia, lives in Colombia, considered for many years to be one of the most dangerous countries on earth. When asked if she feels safe in her school, she told me that because it is so much more difficult to buy a gun in Colombia that mass killings in schools are virtually unheard of. She acknowledged that, of course, robberies and other individual gun crimes happen, but never in public places, like schools or concerts.
She said she thought that school shootings in the U.S. were heartbreaking, shocking and unacceptable.
I have two friends who live in Kurdistan, which is also considered a very dangerous country. They both told me that while they don’t always feel safe outside of their homes or school due to political unrest and violence, school is actually a safe haven for them. They feel very safe in school and don’t recall a school shooting ever happening in their country. Not one.
My friend, Solgunn, who lives in Norway, known for being very safe with regard to gun violence. Why? Because they recognized the problem after their horrific 2011 mass shooting and made it virtually impossible for guns to be used to massacre. Solgunn told me that the idea of someone coming into her school and gunning students and staff down is completely unthinkable, and, to her knowledge, has never happened. She described the Parkland shooting as “horrifying, devastating, and heartbreaking.” She told me she will likely not travel to the U.S. because doesn’t want to put herself at risk. It is incredibly sad to me that every friend I have outside of the U.S. feels safe in class while I sometimes feel afraid to go to school in what we consider the greatest country on earth.
I am outraged that I feel like a sitting duck in my classrooms. More importantly, my parents (who vote in every election), are fed up with the lack of initiative taken by the lawmakers that currently representing them. I believe that we need to help our lawmakers get out from under the thumb of the NRA by making it clear that our parents plan to vote them out if they accept NRA money. Then, when people my age become eligible to vote in the next election cycle, we will multiply those votes against NRA-backed candidates and for those candidates who are courageous enough to reject NRA contributions and run on better platforms. We are not going away this time. We will always remember the children we have lost in the numerous school massacres we have lived through. We will also remember those candidates who are willing to accept this dangerous status quo. We will show them their time is up with our votes, which are actually much more powerful than NRA dollars.
We know we can do better, and I believe we will. I am heartened to hear of the many major companies which have recently cut ties with the NRA and others which are starting to self-impose gun regulations. I am also so happy to hear that colleges are beginning to release statements indicating that they will not penalize students who participate in upcoming national student walkouts. They will be on the right side of history, right alongside me, my fellow classmates and the adults who care about us and our future. My generation is one ripe with extraordinary power, and our time has nearly come to exercise it. Watch us rise.