Would Congress act if Parkland had been a plane crash instead?
When I arrived at school on Feb. 14, 2018, like any junior, I was mostly caught up in Valentine’s Day chatter and events. But that all changed in the space of a few minutes that afternoon when a gunman opened fire on my classmates and my teachers, killing 17 of them and injuring just as many.
The familiar images of students fleeing their school as SWAT teams entered, of parents waiting by the perimeter desperately praying to get their kids back, were now my reality. They were my classmates and friends, too many of whom never came home.
After the shooting, my friends at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I decided we couldn’t sit by as school shootings and gun violence became a normal part of life in America. We were determined to turn an act of violence into a movement, to do everything we could to send a powerful message to the country and to Washington.
There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of the shooting. When I hear a siren or fireworks, it takes me back to that horrific afternoon.
Yet our community isn’t alone in its tragedy. In 2017, nearly 40,000 Americans died as a result of guns, an average of 109 people a day. And according to a tally from Education Week, there were 24 school shootings that resulted in gun-related deaths or injuries in 2018 alone.
While several states have taken positive legislative measures in response, there have been zero bipartisan investigations or new laws from Congress.
Not a single federal law has been passed since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 to address the crisis of school shootings. This year could be different – but only if we organize and insist on it.
Last week, Congress held its first hearing on gun violence prevention since 2011. The House Judiciary Committee is poised to approve a bipartisan bill to requiring background checks for all gun purchases. However, it’s also likely this bill won’t get a hearing, let alone a vote, in the Senate.
That chamber’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, needs to explain to all of us who have sur- vived a shooting or lost someone to gun violence why the Senate won’t even vote on such a bill even though there’s been over half a million gun deaths since 2000, the year I was born.
And Americans should truly reckon with why this epidemic of gun deaths is treated so differently from any other health crisis in our country.
Imagine for a moment that all these gun deaths were caused by something else widely feared: airplane crashes. There’s no universe in which we wouldn’t see it as a national emergency worthy of our undivided attention.
In fact, 2017 was a remarkable year in aviation. No one died in a commercial airplane crash, meaning it was safer for me to fly than it was for me to go to high school. It would take hundreds of completely full Boeing 737 flights crashing without survivors to total the number of people who died by guns in America in just 2017.
If even a handful of such crashes occurred, the government would declare a national emergency. All 737s would be grounded, there would be an independent commission created to investigate the crisis, and Boeing would be called before Congress to answer for its failures.
So why then don’t more than 30,000 gun deaths in a year rise to the level of a national crisis?