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Op-ed: ‘We will not wait for the next school shooting’

By Andrew Sun and Alexander Denza

Jan. 24, 2024 6:00 a.m.

Editor’s Note: The following is a student-written op-ed, signed by over 110 student leaders and meant to be published simultaneously across over 40 student newspapers. The breadth of this op-ed is national and includes public and private universities. Its purpose is to create attention around gun violence and act as a demonstration of the shared concern about gun violence that exists across all college campuses.

Students are taught to love a country that values guns over our lives.

Some of us hear the sound of gunfire when we watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, or when we watch a drumline performance at halftime. But all of us have heard the siren of an active shooter drill and fear that one day our campus will be next.

By painful necessity, we have grown to become much more than students learning in a classroom – we have shed every last remnant of our childhood innocence. The steady silence of Congress is as deafening as gunfire.

We will not wait for individual trauma to affect us all before we respond together – our empathy is not that brittle. Our generation responds to shootings by bearing witness and sharing solidarity like none other. We text each other our last thoughts, and we cry on each others’ shoulders and we mourn with each other at vigils. We convene in classrooms, and we congregate in churches, and we deliberate in dining halls. We’re staunch, and we’re stubborn, and we’re steadfast.

Our hearts bleed from this uniquely American brand of gun violence. Yet we still summon the courage to witness fireworks shows and remind ourselves that we love our country so much that we expect better from it.

We believe that our country has the capacity to love us back. There are bullet-shaped holes in our hearts, but our spirits are unbreakable.

History has taught us that when injustice calls students to act, we shape the moral arc of this country.

Students in the Civil Rights Movement shared their stories through protest, creating the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that organized Freedom Rides, sit-ins and marches. In demanding freedom from racial violence, this group’s activism became woven into American history.

Students across America organized teach-ins during the Vietnam War to expose its calculated cruelties – and in doing so, rediscovering this country’s empathy. Their work, in demanding freedom from conscription and taxpayer-funded violence, is intertwined with the American story.

This fall, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students’ text exchanges during the Aug. 28 shooting reached the hands of the president. The nation read the desperate words of our wounded community as we organized support, rallied and got thrown out of the North Carolina General Assembly. We demanded freedom from gun violence, just as we have in Parkland, and Sandy Hook, and Michigan State University, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For 360,000 of us since Columbine, the toll of bearing witness, of losing our classmates and friends, and of succumbing to the cursed emotional vocabulary of survivorship has become our American story.

Yes, it is not fair that we must rise up against problems that we did not create, but the organizers of past student movements know from lived experience that we decide the future of the country.

The country watched student sit-ins at Greensboro, North Carolina, and Congress subsequently passed civil rights legislation. The country witnessed as students exposed its lies about Vietnam, and Congress subsequently withdrew from the war.

In recent years, the country watched student survivors march against gun violence, and the White House subsequently created the national Office of Gun Violence Prevention on Sept. 22.

So as students and young people, we should know our words don’t end on this page – we will channel them into change.

We invite you to join this generation’s community of organizers, all of us united in demanding a future free of gun violence. We understand the gravity of this commitment, because it’s not simply our lives we protect with prose and protest. It is our way of life itself.

We will not allow America to be painted in a new layer of blood. We will not allow politicians to gamble our lives for National Rifle Association money.

And most of all, politicians will not have the shallow privilege of reading another front-cover op-ed by students on their knees, begging them to do their jobs – we do not need a permission slip to defend our freedoms. They will instead contend with the reality that by uniting with each other and among parents, educators and communities, our demands become undeniable.

We feel intense anger and frustration and sadness, and in its wake, we search for reaffirmations of our empathy – the remarkable human capacity to take on a tiny part of someone else’s suffering. We rediscover this fulfillment in our organizing, in our community, in not just moving away from the unbearable pain of our yesterday but in moving toward an unrelenting hope for our tomorrow.

Our generation dares politicians to look us in the eye and tell us they’re too afraid to try.

Signatories are listed here.

Andrew Sun and Alexander Denza are student leaders from March for Our Lives UNC.

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