Content warning: This article heavily discusses mass shootings, death, gore and violence.
Where were you when 26 were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Where were you when 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.? Where were you when 21 were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas? Where were you when four were killed at Oxford High School? Where were you when six were killed at The Covenant School on Monday?
We can add to the list above, which is but a small selection of the many school shootings in recent U.S. history, which itself is only a subset of U.S. mass shootings. But our generation will likely be able to answer these questions, and unfortunately, the list will only grow.
For those products of the American education system, our psychological calendar will grow more booked up with the dates of school shootings, and exactly where we were when we learned more of our peers had been senselessly gunned down in their classrooms.
But where were our leaders?
Many of our elected officials have had the privilege to not be uncomfortable when the classroom door was left ajar through their teacher’s lecture. They have not questioned if they would be best jumping from the third story window instead of trying to hide in a small cabinet. They did not lose hours of class time practicing barricading the classroom door. They have not been told to arm themselves with a stapler, a heavy textbook or lacrosse balls.
They never walked home from the bus stop and thought how lucky they were to survive another day. Yet they sit in silence.
When they muster up the courage, they have lent us their “thoughts and prayers.”
These words ring hollow, unable to shield us from the barrage of bullets that pierce through our youth. It is hard to fathom that The Covenant School in Nashville — a private, Christian primary school — could have prayed more to prevent the tragedy they endured on Monday. As put by Senate Chaplain Barry Black, “Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers.”
Yet we likely won’t.
So as the blood pools, mixing with tears before coagulating and forming an untreatable stain on the classroom floor, our elected officials who have failed to offer us protection will continue to do just that.
They leave us to die.
What can we suggest be done in this political environment? We cannot think of anything which we can call for that will not just leave us waiting for the next school shooting. And if it is not at a school, then perhaps at a music festival, or in the workplace? Maybe it will be while at university or out at a nightclub? A parade? Synagogue? Church? Walmart? Movie theater?
We are left waiting. Our childhood spent tapping our foot in angst throughout class, only half-concentrated on U.S. History as the fear of being next weighs heavy. Was that a locker being slammed down the hall, or gunfire? Is this a lockdown drill, or the real deal? We wait, in fear.
How can you blame us for the annoying foot tap, or the lack of focus? We are 99 times more likely to die by gunfire than our peers in the United Kingdom. Between 2009 and 2018, the U.S. suffered 144 times more school shootings than did Canada. We had 57 times more school shootings in the U.S. than all other major industrialized nations combined. We are surrounded by death — both in and out of the classroom.
And this is all because our government has yet to protect us. Amid political deadlock — in which some politicians have made abundantly clear they value the lives of American children less than a $2,000 AR-15 rifle — and a constitution enshrining the right to bear arms, we have no suggestion. It seems the bodies of students and their teachers will continue to pile up.
No solutions seem within reach. Nothing can be done. All we can do is wait, wrapped in the empty armor of “thoughts and prayers,” while we sit in class and hope we will be able to tell our parents we loved them again.
While we wait, more bullets will rip through lockers. More blood will pool on rugs during read aloud. More children will die at their desks. More parents will wait for their children in parking lots, and some will drive away with unoccupied booster seats.
In a country where a mass shooting seems more certain than legislation protecting school-age children from young deaths, it seems all we can do is wait for more students to die, right?
Every school shooting — and every subsequent “thoughts and prayers” — is a reminder that our lawmakers choose to let children get murdered; in that sense, every shooting is another death sentence, another inflection point where they refuse to say “enough.”