Gail Curtis spoke at a march and protest against gun violence Saturday, June 11 in Rockland. She is a recent graduate of Camden Hills Regional High School.
I graduated from Camden Hills Regional High School (June 10). I was privileged to feel the deep joy of walking across the stage as my family cheered, accepted my diploma, shook hands with my principal, and graduated.
But there are thousands of students in the high school class of 2022 who haven’t been able to experience it. Thousands of students who will never cross a stage, brimming with pride, happiness and potential, as they graduate from high school.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and America’s Health Ratings, the third leading cause of death in children between the ages of one and eighteen is cancer. This year, the government has allocated $6.9 billion to the National Cancer Institute. The NCI conducts and supports research, education, health information dissemination, and other activities related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. They get to the root of the problem.
The second leading cause of death among American children is motor vehicle related mortality. Automakers spend billions of dollars every year on technological advancements to make driving safer. Some of these game-changing advancements include active health monitoring, brainwave technology, AI dashboards, and security sensors. We have airbags, seat belts, anti-lock brakes, adaptive headlights, traction control. In 2020, the US government spent just under $1 billion on vehicle safety programs, road safety research and development, and road safety grants.
Additionally, as part of Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure program, Congress has mandated all automakers to come up with a method to prevent drunk driving. They attack this problem at its root.
The third leading cause of death among children aged one to eighteen is gun violence. Over the past two decades, research on gun violence prevention has been exceptionally underfunded and far behind research on other causes of death in the United States. After the Parkland school shooting, Congress earmarked $1 billion for a massive grant program that schools used for violence prevention, counseling, and crisis management. They spent that money on panic buttons, metal detectors, security systems and cameras.
Many articles online said the money was spent on “school security.” But this is not true. Students will not feel safe in their schools if they are surrounded by metal detectors, panic buttons and surveillance equipment. If we are trying to make schools safer, we need to pass gun control legislation.
We need to ban assault weapons. We must prohibit the possession or transfer of large capacity magazines. We need to raise the age of purchase for semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. We need tougher training background check requirements for gun owners. We must attack this problem at its root.
Today is day 162 of 2022. We have had 246 mass shootings in America during this time. Gun violence is an epidemic that sometimes seems too widespread, too frequent, too ingrained in the American DNA to ever change. But change can happen. Change has happened all over the world. We just have to fight for it.
Take the example of Great Britain. Britain had a strong culture of gun ownership until 1987 when a British gunman shot and killed 16 people. In response, the country banned semi-automatic weapons and handguns soon after in 1996 in response to a school shooting. Britain now has one of the lowest gun-related death rates among developed countries.
Take Australia. In 1996, an Australian opened fire on a cafe with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 35 people and injuring 28 others. The Prime Minister took immediate action. Australia has banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons and severely restricted the legal ownership of firearms. Australia also introduced a mandatory buy-back of all weapons declared illegal, seizing and destroying over 650,000 weapons. In just seven years after that, Australia’s suicide rate fell by 57% and the average firearm homicide rate fell by 42%. The United States must learn from these countries. Perhaps the methods employed by Britain and Australia would not be so effective in America; we are very different countries, after all.
It is not the methods they used, but the speed – and severity – of their actions that we must learn from. We must prioritize human life over the possession of weapons, as these countries have done, especially when those lives
belong to the most vulnerable American citizens.
I have never been personally affected by gun violence. Neither do most of my classmates. But even living in Maine, where there has never been a school shooting, the possibility of it happening weighs on us all; a dark cloud that follows each of us in our schools. The terror, pain and fear of gun violence affects all students everywhere.
As a high school student, I heard the following words spoken in the hallways of my school.
“If that person was a school shooter, they would kill me for sure.”
“If there was a shooting in a school, this is where I would hide.”
“If there was a shooting in a school, I would want to be with this teacher. He would shoot them down.
“This person looks like a school shooter.”
“This person is acting like a school shooter.”
“This person gives off ‘school shooter’ vibes.”
I know that’s insensitive and rude, but that’s how teenagers deal with it. This is how we deal with fear. We joke rather than face the fact that we’re all genuinely terrified that something like this could happen to us. I’ve had nightmares about school shootings. As well as many of my friends.
And we are all aware of the real possibility of this nightmare becoming a reality. For so many other schools, families and friends across the country, it already is.
A little over a week ago, my school had a “stay put”. A “stay put” is a nicer way to say “lockdown.” I was in the senior lounge with my friends as we speculated on what might happen. We weren’t allowed out or fired. Our deputy director was crying. Someone told us that a man was trying to get inside the building.
The chief of police was outside. It was only two or three days after the tragedy at Uvalde. I remember sitting with my friends, giggling at some stupid joke someone made, trying not to show how worried I really was. I also remember staring at the nearest exit, ready to text my parents that I loved them, ready to run at the first loud noise I heard.
It turned out to be nothing, just a disgruntled parent who thought a personal visit to the school would be more effective than a strongly worded email. The “stay put” ended and we continued our days as normal. But the fear I felt, and I’m sure many of my classmates shared it, stayed with me.
Sometimes I feel powerless in this fight against gun violence. I’m just a seventeen-year-old kid with barely a college degree under my belt. What change can I really make? In the words of Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but I can still do something; and because I cannot do everything, I won’t refuse to do anything I can do.
A single voice resonating in the world will not make much difference. But if we all use our voices, it’s a choir, and we can’t be ignored. We can sign petitions and attend demonstrations. We can write to our legislators, our governor, our senators and our representatives and demand that they fight for gun reform. We can donate to organizations like Everytown and Sandy Hook Promise that fight gun violence.
We can be loud. We CAN make a change.
I graduated from high school. I mourn those who never will. I mourn for the kids whose lives have been stolen because of gun violence, the kids who will never graduate, or get their driver’s license, or take the SAT. Children who will never be able to apply to college and will experience the joy of being accepted. I mourn my lost classmates. I mourn their lost future.
My heart goes out to all the families of the victims of the terrible and senseless violence of the Uvalde shooting and to all the families and victims who came before and to all those who come after. Because there will be more victims and more grieving families if we don’t start taking immediate, tough, and permanent action against gun violence in America.
Political Cartoon: Spring