It could have been you.
Wednesday morning could have been your last goodbye to your parents, or the last kiss for your kid, or the last time you talked to your best friend. It could have been you who woke up today and remembered that all you did was send your kid to school. It could have been you who woke up today with the trauma of the gunshots still ringing in your ears. It could have been you who didn’t get the chance to wake up another day. As a high school student myself, I feel this shooting on a personal and emotional level. Something like this could have happened at my school, to my friends.
Seventeen people are dead. Seventeen people were shot to death simply for being at school.
In the wake of this tragedy, in the midst of this heartbreak, every American should be asking themselves: How did this happen? Why did this happen?
On Thursday, President Donald Trump tweeted this:
So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2018
He makes a good point. This guy was clearly a person with issues, and reporting to authorities a possible danger does sound like a good idea, doesn’t it? Except the laws of this country don’t work like that.
If someone would have reported this young man for his strange behavior (and some did), law enforcement could have done nothing—he is not breaking the law.
If someone would have reported this guy for his disturbing Instagram posts, law enforcement could have done nothing—freedom of speech.
If someone would have reported him for owning a gun while showing signs of mental instability, law enforcement could have done nothing—he passed the background check and obtained his gun legally.
Unfortunately, in this country and in this world, reporting even remotely vague instances to law enforcement does not incite immediate action. Think about the Larry Nassar case of sexual abuse. Hundreds of women were assaulted, many filed claims and reports, and Nassar was still allowed to continue practicing. Think of cases of rape and domestic abuse, where bruised and beat-up women file claims and their assaulters go free. In these cases, perpetrators get away with evil more often than not—and what they are doing is illegal.
What is someone who reports mental instability or concerning behavior truly doing? Being depressed and erratic is perfectly legal, so what can law enforcement do about it? Being depressed and erratic and owning a gun is legal, so what can law enforcement do about it?
There needs to be tangible and feasible change in legislation. Mental illness cannot be legislated away. The government can implement mental health rehabilitation programs, but they cannot force anyone to attend. In fact, the government should be implementing mental illness prevention programs, but that is NOT enough.
We must demand change. Buying tens of semi-automatic, military-grade weapons whose sole purpose is to kill people should NOT be legal for the average citizen, let alone a citizen with a history of mental illness, domestic abuse, animal cruelty, or any other suspicious or violent behavior. For what purpose does someone need this kind of weapon other than to kill another human being?
Seventeen people were shot to death on Wednesday at a school. A National Merit semifinalist, on the brink of the goal she had been striving toward these past four years. The swim team captain, committed and excited to continue his career in college. A 14-year-old freshman, whose only worry should have been signing up for drivers’ ed or finding the sleeping bag for her sleepover on Friday. These people are dead today because the government has failed to keep them safe. These kids are unable to grow old, to live out their dreams, to start their own families; and this because millions of Americans would rather give up hundreds’ right to life and right to an education than dishonor the 2nd Amendment. All because the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment’s call for an “organized militia” is more important than the surety of sending your kid to school and knowing they will be coming home safely. America’s infatuation with these deadly weapons is unacceptable.
This should not be a partisan issue. More weapons will not keep anyone safe. The majority of these school shootings have taken place with legally obtained guns. Up to the point of the bullet piercing someone’s body, these people’s actions have been legal. How is that okay? Action needs to be taken, and it must be taken today.
Regina De Nigris is a high school senior from Michigan. She wrote this for us last year.