It’s been a month since the Parkland shooting and despite the political bullshit (or lack thereof), students are still having the conversation about gun violence. Adults have seemingly tossed aside the issue but the students won’t let them forget. While these conversations have yet to bring about much needed common sense gun reform, it feels different. In the past, a mass shooting made its way out of the media cycle within a week. Not for Parkland. As a result, kids all across the country are standing up and screaming at the top of their lungs that enough is enough. They don’t want to part of another statistic, they want a change. Too many children have died at the hands of a gun, and essentially no legislative action has been taken. Any legislation that has been created still protects the gun lobbies.
Recently, kids across the country participated in the Walkout for Gun Violence, a 17 minute memorial in honor of the students and staff who were killed at Stoneman Douglas. A beautiful and peaceful tribute. It allowed the students to have their opinion be known in a public setting in front of their fellow classmates, teachers, and administrators.
Some schools were against the idea of a walkout, because it interrupts class time, adds unnecessary worry to students and is a distraction to the students etc. Schools and teachers who opted out of the walkout created a new hashtag #walkupnotout. Basically, it encourages kids to walk up to the kid who sits alone, doesn’t have many friends and be nice. It also encourages kids to thank teachers, which is my favorite part of this counter protest. Teaching is a thankless job that deserves much more recognition. However, in the midst of this ongoing debate, a recurring suggestion is to arm teachers as a first line of defense. Most teachers don’t want the added responsibility of having a firearm.
This counter protest of #WalkUpNotOut fixates on the mental health side of the gun reform debate. Mental health is a vital part of the gun reform debate, but it is not what’s going to save our kids. Ironically, every time the nation has these debates we don’t offer mental health solutions. We just acknowledge that mental health played a factor and wait for the next shooting to offer thoughts and prayers, have Facebook debates over and provide no practical solution. Unfortunately, during an active shooter situation, it doesn’t matter how much mental health resources were available because a civilian had legal access to a military grade weapon purposely designed to kill. Lawmakers cannot fathom what it’s like to experience a mass shooting unless they’re apart of one. Therefore the create laws that protect their own agenda instead of protecting our kids. That’s just the nature of the beast, but that doesn’t discredit politicians from having enough compassion to understand why it needs to stop. They won’t care until it’s their child in the casket.
The #WalkUpNotOut counter protest plays into the stigma of mental health. The idea that the kid sitting alone without many friends is the same one plotting a mass shooting is a narrative that only feeds into the mental health stigma. It’s teaching kids that if they look for the right signs they can help prevent the next tragedy. Kids are impressionable, and it would be disgusting if kids repressed their mental illnesses because they don’t want to be labeled as “the next school shooter”. It forces kids to change how they interact in a classroom as a direct result of gun violence. It forces students to become their own security. #WalkUpNotOut shifts the narrative. It puts accountability on the students instead of the shooter which is a very dangerous position to put students in. The function of school is to learn.
I agree with the notion that kids should be nicer to one another. There is too much meanness in the world and kids shouldn’t carry that with them. These kids are our future. Not too long ago, my generation was “the future” but we clearly didn’t do enough.
Students who choose to stand up against gun violence shouldn’t be silenced because these events keep happening. It’s maddening. Columbine wasn’t enough. Virginia Tech wasn’t enough. Sandy Hook wasn’t enough. Orlando wasn’t enough. Las Vegas wasn’t enough. They haven’t stopped. Sadly it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. The March For Our Lives movement stands up against senseless gun violence everywhere.
Not just in schools.
Not just at church.
Not just at the movies.
Not just at college.
Not just at a concert.
Nobody wants this to be part of our new normal, but until laws are created to actively protect students and keep assault rifles away from civilians it will keep happening. We fall victim to the same cycle even though we know the way to break it.
When I went to school, I never had to worry about an active shooter gunning down my teachers and classmates. We didn’t have to take any additional precautions to feel safe because it was understood that school is a safe place. We didn’t need added security or armed teachers to ease our worry. We already felt safe. But if we allow the narrative to become #WalkUpNotOut then we also choose to ignore the 7,000 kids killed by guns. [tc-mark\