Last night, I took my place on the studio floor and began to stretch with the other girls in my ballet class. My palms glided against the cold, smooth wood as I slid into a straddle and tilted my gaze upward to find that my teacher’s expression had turned grim. Her shoulders were rigid, and she was moving closer to the gleaming red doors that separated the studio from the lobby, the dancers from the outside.
Last night, I felt the room go quiet as the doors creaked inward and my teacher strode across the floor to take her seat on a stool beside the stereo. She looked childlike, with her legs tucked beneath her and her shoulders hunched over in the same way she always reminds us never to practice. There were teardrops suspended on her lower lashes that spoke of defeat.
Last night, I listened as she recounted the discussion she had had with the dancer and her mother in the lobby. Everything was still. I could hear the whirring of the AC unit to my right and could feel the warmth from the slow, conscious breaths of girls holding back tears fill the room.
Last night, I learned that the young dancer who waited in the lobby with her mother was the cousin of a 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed last week in Parkland, Florida.
Last night, I realized that the comforting yet foolish phrase “That could never happen here” is no longer viable.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School may be a thousand miles away from First Flight, but the tragedy that took place there on Valentine’s Day has sent shockwaves across the nation, and those waves have broken on the Outer Banks. As improbable as it seems, there are Outer Banks residents who have been directly affected by the latest school shooting in America.
Our tiny sandbar community is isolated, yes, but that does not mean that we as students, we as teachers, we as administrators, we as community members, politicians, and lawmakers can sit back as mere bystanders while events unfold in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting.
While it is a terrifying thought to contemplate, Marjory Stoneman Douglas is little different than any high school in Dare County—what happened there can happen here. That possibility alone is reason enough to support stricter regulations on guns in America.
We as students need to speak up for our right to a safe education. We should not have to sit in class and worry about where we would run and hide if there was an active shooter in our halls, about who we would text our first goodbyes to, about whether we would be brave enough to step in front of one of our classmates or teachers. We are 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19-year-olds who should be worrying about studying for our next math quiz or picking out our next prom dress.
But the sad reality of the current state of our nation leaves us with more serious concerns on our minds. So yes, although it is not ideal, we should be worrying about where to go in the event of a school shooting. We should be listening to our teachers and administrators as they attempt to make our schools safer. Most importantly, we should be fighting for stricter regulations on firearms in America.
“Thoughts and prayers,” while important, are not enough. It does not matter if you support a ban on guns altogether or something as simple as metal detectors in schools: any step toward ending the American epidemic of school shootings is a step in the right direction, and a step we should all be willing to take.
We need increased conversation. We need active participation in demonstrations such as the Outer Banks Unity March to support students in Parkland on March 24, or the National School Walkout Day on April 20. We need to be calling our representatives and sending them letters and emails to express our concerns and demand reform. We need to use social media as a platform for awareness.
We need to realize that the mindset that an event such as the Parkland shooting could never happen to us is unrealistic.
To our parents, teachers, administrators, and community members—we need your support. Our age should not be a factor when considering whether or not our opinions are valid. We are young, we are students, and this issue of gun violence in schools impacts us directly. Therefore, our opinions and proposed solutions are valid and need to be treated as such to ensure reform.
To our politicians and lawmakers: we need you to listen. The survivors are speaking out. The supporters are taking action. The statistics are startling. According to an ongoing study by the Washington Post, “More than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.” An endorsement from the NRA should not outweigh the safety of students and teachers in schools across the country. Our firearm regulations should not remain stagnant as guns flood our society at an unprecedented rate. A 19-year-old kid should not be able to purchase a semi-automatic rifle.
Enough is enough. It is time for students, teachers, community members, and lawmakers to take action against gun violence—especially in schools.
As Parkland senior Emma Gonzalez so eloquently said to gun advocates and lawmakers after surviving the shooting, “We call B.S.”