“No four-year-old, 10-year-old, or any adolescent should ever have to be told to fight for our lives, or run as fast as we possibly can if we hear gunshots at school–or anywhere for that matter,” writes Faith Turner, a high school student in North Carolina.
That seems like a pretty large number, doesn’t it? According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 499 mass shootings this year. At least. That averages out to almost two mass shootings per day since January 1st. There are only 365 days in a year, and the number of mass shootings has already surpassed that. Let that sink in.
I was born in March of 2005, and for as long as I can remember, school shootings were always an issue. I remember being four years old in preschool, practicing school shooting drills. I remember being confused, because I didn’t understand why we had to practice hiding under desks with the lights off and the door closed and locked.
At first it seemed like a game, but after a while, I understood how serious it was. I remember my teachers huddling all of us either in a corner or under the desks and telling us that we could not say a word or make a noise. I was only four years old, and I still remember that day clearly. It will probably stick with me forever. That was the day this became the new normal.
For the next 14 years, lockdown drills became a monthly recurrence. They started holding school meetings and assemblies, just to prepare us for the risk of someone entering into our schools and opening fire. You’d think that after 14 years, it’s something that someone might get used to.
I can tell you firsthand that nobody can ever get used to something like that. No four-year-old, 10-year-old, or any adolescent should ever have to be told to fight for our lives, or run as fast as we possibly can if we hear gunshots at school–or anywhere for that matter.
After a while, it just became something that everyone had to accept and put in the back of their minds. For me, it was still always front and center in my mind.
The first school shooting that really stuck with me was Sandy Hook. I remember being seven years old, doing what any normal seven-year-old little girl does—watching television and playing with Barbie dolls. I remember my mom rushing into the room and changing the channel to the news, and there it was.
I remember putting my dolls down and scooting closer to the television. I didn’t really understand what all was going on at the time, but in my seven-year-old mind, I knew it was bad. There were police officers rushing around and kids running with their hands on their heads, crying and screaming.
I learned how to read when I was five years old, and I fell in love with it, so you can imagine how eager I was to read all of the words on the television. I remember reading the word death on the screen, and it terrified me. I was very familiar with what that word meant, because I lost a lot of family members around that time.
As I continued to watch the screen, the number of deaths increased. When they finally showed the perpetrator’s face, my heart stopped. I remember being upset, because all I could see was hate in his eyes. After what seemed like forever, my mom finally switched the TV off. I turned to her, and I remember asking her why he did such a thing. I wanted to know why someone would ever hurt those kids, and it upset me because they were the same exact age as me. To me, they were like my friends.
After a few moments, my mom looked up at me and said “He did it because he had a lot of hate in his heart.”
That day still haunts me.
For the next 11 years, shootings kept happening, and more frequently as well. Rancho Tehama Elementary, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Santa Fe High School, the University of California-Santa Barbara. These are just the very few that I can list off of the top of my head. Every single one of them stuck in my head and impacted not only me, but the rest of Gen Z.
I started to fear school at a very young age as a result, and it gave me a lot of social anxiety. I remember constantly thinking about what I would do if someone ever entered the schools that I attended. Would I run, hide, or fight back? Would I save others or save myself? It was awful to even think about, but I promised myself at a young age that I would stay and save my peers, because I somehow always thought I could use all my power to stop the gunmen.
As I left for school every morning, I found myself thinking about how that could potentially be the last time that I would ever see my family and friends. It was something that I was ashamed of, and I would always keep that fact to myself. It made me feel stupid and weak, but I grew up around gun violence from a young age. I knew just how powerful a firearm was. One bullet can determine someone’s entire existence, and it terrified me to even think about it.
School was once my safe place, but that had been stripped away and replaced with an exhausting sense of fear. I grew tired of having to practice lockdown drills instead of going outside for recess. If we were quiet enough during those lockdown drills, the teachers would sometimes give us treats like candy and stickers. No child should ever have to be rewarded for being quiet enough for a school shooter.
I used to come home so upset, because during those drills, a teacher from the outside would rattle the doorknobs and pretend to break in just like a school shooter would. If we didn’t react the right way, the class would usually get in trouble. I remember asking myself, “Why the heck are we getting in trouble for not being quiet enough for someone who is trying to take our lives?”
When I entered middle school, my classmates started getting upset when we had to do these drills. They would start acting up and getting rowdy during these lockdown drills, and I always thought to myself, “Why aren’t they taking this seriously anymore?”
I will never forget one of my classmates getting upset and saying, “There isn’t any point in this. We’re all going to end up dying anyway.”
That sentence will stick with me forever. The most gut-wrenching feeling was realizing that this was the new normal. My generation was preparing themselves to potentially die. The more school shootings seemed to occur, the more I witnessed the schools that I attended change. They started putting in metal detectors, doing bookbag checks, and bringing in police officers and sniffing dogs. All of this became normal. We couldn’t even be checked out of school until our guardians got brief background checks in the front office. We went from getting to eat lunch with our parents, to them not even being able to enter the schools because the doors were deadbolted at all times.
Fast forward to the end of my junior year of high school. It was May of 2022, and I was at home doing my homework at the kitchen table. I scrolled on social media, and I remember my principal posting something about praying for Uvalde. I searched up the word Uvalde in my computer’s search bar, and to this day I wish I never had, because all I could see were the faces of the young children that lost their lives.
The more I read and saw the horrific details, the more I felt sick to my stomach. I remember crying my eyes out and becoming physically ill for a few days after that, because my entire soul hurt for those kids. They didn’t deserve that. Nobody does. I felt so much guilt, because those children weren’t even in middle school. They will never get to experience having a first job, shopping for homecoming and prom, getting a car, graduating high school, or enjoying any of the countless milestones that define our lives.
One weapon has dictated the lives of thousands of people. It was all me and my classmates could talk about for days. For the past three years, firearms have been the number one cause of child deaths. A firearm should not matter more than a young child’s future.
A few months later, my senior year started. My friends all planned and dressed up for my high school’s homecoming. We were all decked out in the school’s colors, and thousands of students, staff, and parents were there. It was halfway through the night, and I remember standing with my best friend. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. Something was off. Just as me and my friends were about to head out, we heard someone screaming: “He has a gun!”
All I and my friends could think to do was run. Before I knew it, thousands of people were running for their lives to the fences. There was food flying everywhere and baby strollers left frozen in time. All I could think about was how I was going to die.
Football players were taking off their equipment and helping people over the fence. If you didn’t run, you were going to get trampled. When I reached the fence, I realized how high it was. Not only that, but there were two of them. I started to climb over until I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and saw one of my classmates sobbing and limping.
I ran to her, and she said to me: “Please don’t leave me here.”
I chose at that moment to stay, because I could never live with the fact that I let one of my loved ones die alone. Before I knew it, the police arrived and the principal told us that everything was okay. Things slowly started to settle down, but the damage was done.
No shots were ever fired, but thousands of people were screaming and crying. A ton of people were hurt: dozens of students were trampled in the rush to get away, even more broke arms and legs, and nobody left that night without a little blood on them–either their own, or someone else’s. My school was never the same again, and neither was I.
It gave me so much anxiety and fear, that eventually I had to drop out halfway through the school year, and switch to online classes. It hurt that I couldn’t walk the stage with my class, but I was too scared to even continue going back. I couldn’t focus.
That is the minimum number of mass shootings this year, one of the most recent hitting very close to home at UNC Chapel Hill. It affected my community, family, and friends. I hope whoever is reading this feels just as sad and angry as I am writing this.
My generation, Gen Z, has experienced so much and we got our childhood ripped away from us. I am writing this for not only my generation, but all of the other generations to come. I will never stop fighting until I get justice for not only the friends and family members that I have lost due to gun violence, but also for every other person in America affected by this.
We will no longer be silenced.