Oak Park and River Forest High School students march to call for stricter gun laws, May 25, one day after the mass school shooting at a Texas elementary school. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Almost every American who was over the age of 10 in 2001 can tell you where they were when 9/11 happened. We weren’t alive in 2001, but we can tell you where we were when the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened in 2018.

It was Valentines Day and we were all in middle school, whispering about crushes and anxiously awaiting the day when we would get a valentine of our own. We were sitting in class when news began to break about an active shooter in a high school in Parkland, Florida. The positivity of Valentines Day quickly turned into widespread fear among students and teachers across the country.

We planned walkouts and protests and begged for change. There have been over 100 K-12 school shootings since then and still we find ourselves pleading with lawmakers to increase gun regulation in the United States.

On May 24, 2022 an 18-year-old killed 19 students and 2 teachers using an AR-15-style rifle at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. We find ourselves once again disturbed, angry, and heartbroken. We decided to organize a protest at Scoville Park to give kids in our community an outlet to express their emotions regarding the shooting. While we spoke, we looked out into the park and saw faces of teenagers who have been traumatized by years of lockdown drills, news clips of shootings, and empty prayers from guilty lawmakers.

Gun violence and mass shootings have been a constant throughout our lives. Gun advocates argue that mass shootings are caused by “a few bad apples,” and are not a good enough reason to change gun laws. The reality is that it’s 2022, and firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the U.S. When 9/11 revealed issues with our air travel safety, President Bush swiftly created TSA, added more air marshals, and drastically increased safety measurements in airports. When drinking and driving became a major issue in the ’80s, the federal government withheld highway funds from states to encourage them to raise their minimum drinking ages to 21. When car crashes became a prevalent safety concern, Volvo invented the V-type three-point safety belt.

Why can’t this kind of immediate and reactive change happen when children are being shot at school?

After Columbine, lawmakers should have raised the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. After Virginia Tech, lawmakers should’ve stopped accepting money from the NRA. After Sandy Hook, lawmakers should’ve banned the sale of assault rifles to civilians. After Parkland, lawmakers should’ve enacted red flag laws. It’s been a month since the shooting in Uvalde, and lawmakers need to pass HR-8, a universal background check bill passed in the house over a year ago. If these measures had been implemented after shootings occurred, kids’ lives would have been saved from the epidemic that is gun violence.

Due to the inaction of lawmakers, 19 kids from Uvalde, 14 kids from Parkland, and hundreds of others will never get to walk the stage at graduation. They’ll never get their driver’s licenses, and they’ll never get to wait anxiously for a valentine of their own. We implore those reading this to call their representatives and ask them to support stronger gun-regulation measures and especially to vote out politicians who do not prioritize the safety and well-being of American children.

Greta Kirby & Grace Houren recently graduated from OPRF High School and hope that four years from now they will see more change than in the previous four years. This was written before the recent gun legislation — which did not raise the age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21 — was passed by Congress.

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