The following essay mentions topics surrounding gun violence, mass shootings, trauma and mental health. Please read at your own discretion.
On February 14, 2018, my life changed when seventeen students and teachers were killed in a horrific (and preventable) act of gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the aftermath of the shooting, my classmates and I went to more funerals in one week than some adults go to in a lifetime. I never imagined gun violence would come to my community, or that my high school would become a hashtag.
We thought our school’s tragedy would be the last one. We raised our voices, met with our elected officials and marched for our lives. And in the time since, we’ve made some progress. We fought for red, blue and purple states across the country to pass common-sense gun laws, including red flag laws and background check laws that prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. Three years later, though, the fight continues.
America’s gun violence epidemic continues to kill more than 100 people every day and wound 200 more — disproportionately impacting Black and Latino communities. And while they make headlines, mass shootings only make up about one percent of gun deaths in this country.
As young people, we are all too familiar with what gun violence looks like. The statistics are staggering. According to statistics gathered by Every Town, firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. In fact, nine children and teens are shot and killed every day and another 42 are shot and wounded. Black children and teens are 14 times more likely than white children and teens of the same age to die by gun homicide. More than 100 children and teens die by an unintentional gunshot every year. Firearm suicide among young people has increased by 42% over the past decade.
The threat of gun violence has impacted almost every child and teenager in this country, with active shooter drills tying our generation together. According to a 2018 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 75% of high school students aged 15 to 17 cited mass shootings as a primary source of stress. No one should grow up worried they won’t come home at the end of the day.
Gun violence is a uniquely American story. The United States is the only developed country in the world where this continues to happen again and again. In fact, the pandemic has only intensified the country’s gun violence crisis. In 2020, the number of people killed by gun violence exceeded 40,000 – the highest rate of gun deaths in two decades. As gun sales surged to record levels during the coronavirus pandemic, there were reports of increased calls to domestic violence hotlines, a spike in city gun violence, and far more unintentional shootings. As we recover from the pandemic, that shouldn’t mean shootings resume in places where we should feel safe. We came so far in our fight to get the pandemic under control. We can and must do the same to prevent gun violence.
We have the opportunity to rewrite America’s story and to make our country safer for every family. As gun violence has grown, so too has the movement to stop it. We continue to educate, organize, advocate, and rally for safer communities. And make no mistake about it, we will win.
Friday, June 4 is National Gun Violence Awareness Day and the beginning of Wear Orange Weekend. Wear Orange is dedicated to honoring the lives of people in the United States affected by gun violence. Americans across the country will be wearing orange to honor those taken and wounded by gun violence, and to call for an end to this crisis.
I wear orange this year so that no student will have to fear for their lives while getting an education in our country. I wear orange so that reopening our country doesn’t mean more communities turning into hashtags. And I wear orange for my 17 classmates and teachers and victims of gun violence who can’t raise their own voices in this fight.
As I finish my freshman year of college, I think a lot about my classmates who never got to graduate. In their honor, thousands of Students Demand Actions volunteers like me have been spurred to action and called to this fight that defines our generation. I hope you will join us by wearing orange to call attention to our nation’s gun violence epidemic. We can make this country safe for everyone. I know we are standing at the precipice of generational change on gun violence. And I won’t give up because I am one of the lucky ones who are still here to fight this fight.
Sari Kaufman survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Sari is a volunteer with Students Demand Action and a former member of the Students Demand Action Advisory Board.
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