“Chilling, Agonizing, Unacceptable:” Gun Violence in America

by Catherine Onorato ‘22 and Amanda Edge ‘22

Recently in the United States, we’ve seen a surge in gun violence. This past month alone, we have seen 45 shootings. This is nothing new, gun violence has been a problem in America for decades. We see it reported week after week, we’ve watched as it’s become unsafe for us to be in schools, at the grocery store, in nightclubs, or religious buildings. We watch as innocent black people die at the hands of law enforcement, and innocent Asian people get targeted in the streets. That’s just the problem, we watch. Hardly any legislative action has been taken in an effort to reduce or altogether eliminate gun violence. 


You’d think we would’ve drawn the line after Columbine, but since we didn’t, it allowed hundreds of more school shootings to take place in the coming decades. Americans continue to die needlessly because our right to bear arms takes precedence over our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 


Part of our problem is that we tend to view mass shootings in the abstract. We can’t (or our legislators can’t) seem to wrap our heads around how much damage the pull of a trigger does to an entire community. On April 20, 1999, students from Columbine High School went into the day like any other. Little did they know that it would be their last day with 12 of their classmates and one of their teachers. Beyond the grief and survivor’s remorse, the students at this school had now lost their sense of safety and could never look at school as a safe space again. Their parents would worry every time they went into the school building from then on, worrying about whether their child would make it through the day. Each of the thirteen lives lost that day had so much left to give to the world but were stripped of that opportunity because a deadly weapon was able to get into the hands of the wrong person. This shooting was 21 years ago. There have been 230 more school shootings since Columbine. 


Since no legislative action was taken after Columbine for stricter gun laws, shooters grew inspired by the Columbine massacre and drew influence from the shooters. This has become known as “the Columbine Effect” and has been linked to numerous school shootings including Sandy Hook Elementary and most recently Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School. 


For us, the Parkland shooting at Stoneman-Douglas was a real wake-up call. We watched television footage of people our age being shot dead at school, while we were in school ourselves. It was chilling and agonizing to watch the pain that this caused on the Parkland community. Naively, we anticipated a response from government officials or the president of something stronger than “thoughts and prayers”. But when the extent of the response from our political leaders was a two-sentence tweet, we quickly grew enraged. 


AE: Personally, the Parkland shooting was a wake-up call. I found it absolutely unacceptable that 17 innocent children with their entire lives ahead of them could be killed because of shortcomings in our gun laws, and there would be no change at all, leaving us susceptible to more death in the future. It was extremely discomforting to see the issue of children’s safety in schools not be a top priority in Congress, especially since there is a clear solution. The Parkland shooting left me with a certain uneasiness in my own life. It left me with lingering thoughts and feelings of insecurity in my school environment, which I previously felt so safe in. But now being aware of the risks of gun violence, I saw a call to action. Watching Parkland students take charge and plan to protest our lax gun restrictions, I felt empowered to do the same. I was only 14 at the time, but I felt that if I continued to speak up, someone would listen. I participated in a walkout a month later, and as I lay in silence for 17 minutes in honor of the victims of the Parkland shooting, I felt an incredible sense of loss, as though they were my classmates. This quickly turned into a need for justice. I began investing my energy into understanding the gun debate and spreading knowledge via social media. I wrote to congressmen and senators, thinking that it might have some impact on their political agendas. It may seem naive, but I continue to try and carry this mindset with me today. I’ll never give up fighting for the victims of gun violence in the hopes that one day there won’t be anymore. 


CO: For me, Catherine, the parkland shooting marked the start of my activism. I will never forget seeing the CNN notification pop up on my phone while I was in advisory. My stomach dropped and I immediately opened the app to read the headline “at least 17 dead in Florida school shooting.” The second I got home from school I ran to my room and immediately began to cry. I was watching the live coverage while reading articles just trying to piece together what had happened. Over the following weeks, I became enraged following the news and seeing that the president had done nothing but send his “thoughts and prayers”. This is when I knew I needed to take action myself. Obviously, a 14-year-old girl could not change laws or make any major decisions in order to better our gun laws. So, I took it upon myself to spread awareness. Parkland students had already planned a school walkout, I talked to a few of my peers and we planned our own walkout. We spent days planning out a thorough proposal to present to the administration. Once the day of the meeting came, all our hard work abruptly came to an end. Our proposal was denied. To me, it was more personal than just a walkout. I felt in my own life truly impacted by this shooting, and now we were being silenced. A month after, on March 24, 2018, I attended the March For Our Lives in Washington, DC. This march was one of the most influential events in my life thus far. Being with other passionate students taking action that government officials refused to take, was empowering. On March 14, 2019, I participated in a walkout to the Capitol honoring the Parkland Victims. This is where Amanda and I truly bonded. We knew that we had to continue the fight against gun violence and in March of 2020, we started a March For Our Lives chapter at SSSAS. All of these experiences turned me not only into the activist that I am today, but the person that I am today. 


As we continue to see shootings happen, we work with March for Our Lives in an effort to influence lawmakers into backing stricter gun legislation. This effort has been successful on the state level, this summer Virginia passed a number of gun reform bills. One requiring a universal background check for all gun sales, another prohibiting the sale of firearms to anyone who has been convicted of assault and battery, a “red flag” law which allows courts to temporarily seize a person’s firearms if they pose a danger to themself or others, a complete ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a requirement that lost and stolen guns are reported to law enforcement, prohibition on people under protective orders owning guns, and stiffer penalties for letting children access loaded, unsecured guns. 


While we may be seeing these wins at the state level, it would be far more beneficial to see uniform gun laws nationwide. This way, one cannot buy and register a gun in one state where the criteria are more lax and then carry it into another, more strict, state. There is certainly much more work to be done and we are a long way from seeing the end of gun violence, just today there was another mass shooting in Texas (4/18). It speaks volumes that another mass shooting took place just in the duration of time from when we sat down to start this article a few hours ago.