Domestic Affairs

Gun Violence: A Modern Epidemic

Kennedy Rodriguez is a 2018 graduate of Santa Fe High School. She began speaking out against gun violence just three months prior to the shooting that took place in Santa Fe. Since, she has tried to continue using her voice to encourage people to vote, educate others on the effects of gun violence, and uplift communities and individuals that have been affected.

Americans are dying. They are being killed by a sweeping epidemic that many deny has a cure. That epidemic is gun violence.

Every day, 100 Americans are killed by guns. On May 18, 2018, ten of those people were killed inside the hallways of my high school. Eight of whom were children between the ages of 14 and 17. I wasn’t in school that day, but everyone I knew and had grown up with was. Our community grieved, but nothing changed. We had seen many before us go through this same routine. We felt broken and tired, and in the midst of our loss, more were added to the list of the infected. It happens again and again, and America seems to move on from each incident almost as quickly as they occur.

We had all seen this routine before, dozens of times. At schools, churches, nightclubs, and movie theaters. To put this into perspective, the Columbine shooting happened in 1999, the year that my friends and I were born. Since then, there have been 85 school shootings.

As my small Texas community of 13,000 anticipates the one-year anniversary of the Santa Fe High School shooting, I can’t help but remember the feeling I had that day. I was pacing between my phone and the TV waiting to hear back from everyone that I had texted. Because I didn’t have morning classes that day, I woke up around 7:30. My phone rang and I answered to hear a panicked friend saying, “Kennedy, PLEASE do not come to school. Something is happening. We are running across the street for shelter. Do not come.” I could hear the chaos in the background, and panic in her voice. People were screaming and running.

Although it hadn’t been confirmed yet, everyone knew there was an active shooter. We knew because we had experienced a five-hour lockdown for suspected “popping” noises just two months prior, and had been threatened by a different student. This happened the same day that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students were allowed back on campus after the shooting at their high school. Someone posted pictures threatening to open fire at our high school.

Although the school confirmed this wasn’t a real threat, it felt very real to me. My friend Bree and I were texting everyone we knew and telling them we loved them. We held hands tightly, while we cried and held textbooks in front of us. A classmate who had recently undergone ACL surgery was the one passing the textbooks out to use as shields. We were told that a textbook might be a thick enough barrier to protect us from gunfire. In those moments, that was its only function.

Within three months of the Santa Fe shooting, I started college at UT. Being in Austin, meeting my new roommate, and feeling the excitement of beginning classes made everything that had happened seem a world away. I settled into feeling safe here. It was hard to think about the possibility of anything bad occurring in my life again.

Once classes started, my feelings changed. I found myself sitting in my government class planning my escape route instead of listening to the lecture. Over and over in my head I thought, “What if someone came in and started to shoot?” I looked around the room and safely assumed that I was the only person preoccupied with this fear. I knew I had been infected by a disease that had invaded every tissue of my being.

In the recent months since Parkland, Santa Fe, and many other school shootings, gun violence has been pushed to the forefront of most political debates. Important conversations are underway about changing laws to protect more people from this ever-growing epidemic. It’s hard to understand why these conversations didn’t first occur at this scale after Columbine in 1999 or when 26 seven year olds and their teachers were brutally murdered in 2012 at Sandy Hook. It is disappointing that even after all of these massacres, we still have very lax gun laws.

Some of the biggest issues are the lack of background checks and safe storage inside homes. The simplest solution is to require all 50 states to do background checks for prospective gun buyers. In fact, 97 percent of Americans, gun owners, and Republicans support the requirement of background checks. Background checks seem to be the most widely supported bipartisan measure to reduce gun violence.

Around 22 percent of Americans obtain their guns with no background check whatsoever. We are just starting to see movement by pushing universal background checks with the new bill, HR8. This and other bills, such as ERPO (extreme risk protection order) bills and bills advocating for safe storage, only strive to keep weapons out of irresponsible hands, while responsible owners are unaffected. These types of bills will keep us safer.

Young people in America are dying. We are huddled in our classrooms using textbooks as shields. We are being murdered at alarming rates in our classrooms. According to a study using statistics from the Defense Department, more children in 2018 died from school shootings than did active servicemen and women. We are not soldiers. We are children. We are not trained in combat. We are plagued by gun violence. We have proposed immunizations and vaccinations (in the form of ERPO, HR8, safe storage, and others) to fight this epidemic. And we hope that the people listening — who have the power to the vote, unlike some of us — will continue the fight for these laws and continue to fight for the lives of dying American people.

This is my story. This does not reflect the story of everyone who has been affected. It is not meant to incite pity. This is not meant to convey the tired but true narrative that exclaims, “We need change.” We DO need change — change in the way that we comfortably sit idly by and watch more and more lives taken by gun violence. We should wake up from our desensitization of the horrors of this world and do more than send “thoughts & prayers.” We should not put the value of a piece of metal and plastic over the life of someone’s child or sister or friend. It is our responsibility to fight this epidemic as citizens, but more importantly as humans.

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