Growing Up in the Age of Mass Shootings

When I went to the movies as a little girl, my mother would always point out the emergency exits. Then, I did not really understand the reasoning behind telling a young child the location of the emergency exits, but now I do.

My earliest memory of a mass shooting was the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when I was in the sixth grade. I remember watching the coverage on the television and wearing a burgundy t-shirt to school to honor the victims. Since then, the prevalence of mass shooting has only increased. A few years later the attacks at Fort Hood and Oslo occurred and then the year after, the tragedies at Aurora and Sandy Hook. Just a few days ago, the shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Just yesterday, I watched an incredible short film entitled Helpless that is apart of the PBS Online Film Festival. I hate to spoil the film, but it addressed a school shooting, a fact that is revealed in the final minute. What really struck me about the film was how the filmmaker led up to the reveal in a somewhat casual manner. The film takes place on the floor of a library where a boy and a girl are having a conversation about high school, the upcoming prom, and the "what ifs" of life -- a seemingly casual conversation. But the boy's furtive glances and anxious behavior lead the viewer to believe that something is dangerously wrong.

After watching, my supervisor in the Digital Media department at UNC-TV tasked me with drafting a summary and a few sample tweets to advertise the film to the greater public. Since the film's subjects were high school age, I asked my supervisor if it would be in poor taste to use #highschool as a way to advertise the film. I remember saying, "I feel like people searching #highschool are not looking to watch a film about a school shooting." She then said something along the lines of, for the most part, "you are correct." But unfortunately, mass shootings are now apart of the school experience. At the moment I was caught off guard by that stark analysis, but then I sadly realized that she was correct.

During my time in middle and high school, I remember having lock down drills and being told what to do if there was a shooter on campus. To be perfectly honest, I do not think that school shootings should be considered simply a part of the school experience. As President Obama said in his speech the other day:

We do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it.

I distinctly remember after the Aurora shootings having a discussion with my mom about what to do if there was a shooter in a movie theater. These conversations should not need to happen. Parents should not need to educate their children about shooter protocol in "an advanced country" such as the United States of America.

The hypocrisy of the situation of mass shootings was stated perfectly by Jon Stewart. He said that if this was an act of terror by al-Qaeda or ISIS, "we'll torture people." But when it comes to domestic terrorism, we chalk it up to the shooter's mental state and call it a day.

'We've got to do whatever we can to keep Americans safe.' Nine people shot in a church, what about that? 'Hey, what are you gonna do, crazy is as crazy is, right?' That's the part that I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around.

As a nation, we cannot just write off these instances of domestic terror as just the actions of a deranged individual. We need to take ownership of how our current system of laws enables this sort of behavior and we need to stop it before we have another mass shooting to add to our ever growing list of tragedies.