I was 11 years old and in sixth grade when Columbine happened. This was 19 years ago, and I still remember it vividly. Even though Columbine was not my school — I lived in Illinois at the time — it still hit me and my fellow students hard. If it could happen there, why couldn’t it happen anywhere? My school offered sessions with a school psychologist, and this event — where I knew nobody who was hurt or killed — still hurt me enough that I went. Many students did. We knew no one affected, yet we were all affected.
Fast forward to today. I’ve lost track of how many school shootings have happened since Columbine. Hundreds of lives cut short, hundreds more hurt, and thousands of students traumatized.
I remember that after Columbine, for the rest of my education, when I started each semester in a new classroom I made a plan of how I would try to escape or where I would hide if there was a shooter. I would look at my teacher’s filing cabinet and think, “I’m small, I could fit in those drawers if I needed to.” I thought about how I would play dead, how I could cut myself and use the blood to look like I had been shot so that I didn’t need to be shot again.
Keep in mind this started at the age of 11. Now active shooter drills start as early as pre-school and continue for a child’s entire education. You want to talk about a mental health crisis in our country? Just imagine the psychological effects this has had on an entire generation of students — to plan how you will try to escape your own death, how you’ll cope with watching your classmates get shot and killed. How literally, any second, a gunman could burst in your class and start shooting. Even when you graduate, you still have siblings, family, friends, and possibly your own kids to worry about. Again, think about the mental burden this produces.
So what do we do? Obviously, thoughts and prayers are not enough. But saying “something must be done” is not enough either. The first and easiest thing is to vote. In every election. Find out who the NRA has sponsored in that election, and vote for another candidate. Write to the NRA-endorsed candidates and let them know that you chose not to vote for them because they took money and support from the NRA. We must make it political suicide to be in the pocket of the NRA. Talk to your friends and family about when elections are and who has taken money from the NRA.
Second, educate yourself. Be able to say more than “something needs to be done.” Whether it's closing gun-show loopholes, making it so domestic abusers can’t own guns, banning assault rifles or high-capacity magazines, or blocking concealed carry reciprocity — or hell, even increased funding for mental health care in federal or local budgets — have an answer to “Well, what is that something that needs to be done?”
Go a step further. Call your representatives and ask them to support bills like these. Explain what they mean to you. Talk to friends and encourage them to call as well. Join groups like Everytown and Moms Demand Action and show up for their events. If we can make groups like these bigger and better funded than the NRA, just maybe politicians will listen.
Here’s an example: A bill passed the House of Representatives in December that would allow a person who has a concealed carry permit in one state to conceal carry in any state. Right here in Wisconsin, there’s a bill (SB 169, AB 247) that would remove the need for a license to conceal carry. Call you congressional and state reps and not only oppose these bills, but tell them what you want instead.
My generation may never stop looking for exits and escape strategies, but we can make sure the next generation of students doesn’t have to.
Beth Alleman, who has a degree in psychology, is currently a student in nursing at UW-Madison, and an organizer with Indivisible Madison.
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