I felt my anger rising while I listened to a panel of students talk to a roomful of education journalists last week.
You may recognize a few of their names: Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, two student survivors of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school in February. They were joined by fellow student activists Alex King of Chicago and Jackson Mittleman of Newtown, Connecticut, all of whom talked about how their personal experiences with gun violence turned them into activists for gun law reforms.
When I’ve watched teenage activists speak on television, I’ve been struck by how articulate and impassioned they are. They seem wise beyond their years. But when I watched them casually chat for an hour, I was taken by their youthful innocence. They teased one another, jumped in to finish each other’s sentences, rambled on while retelling stories and laughed at their own missteps. They sounded just like our kids, like teenagers in any school, any mall, any football game. And they had survived hell.
They described the trauma of massacres and killing that should be unimaginable to our kids.
I sat there seething. We’ve listened to these horror stories for years. It’s violence so obscene that it’s jarring to hear young people sitting around talking about it.
So far this year, more people have been killed at schools than have been killed as deployed members of the U.S. military. Every country has children struggling with mental illness and social isolation. America is the only one where they can easily acquire a weapon that can kill scores of people in minutes.
We are the only country where children are massacred in their schools over and over again, while politicians funded by the NRA do nothing. We all know that some changes would make these massacres less likely -- restrict access to assault-style semi-automatic firearms, close all background-check loopholes, make it easier to keep guns away from those with a violent criminal record or mental health issues, raise the age to 21 for gun buyers and hold gun owners responsible for leaving unsecured weapons around children and teens.
And yet, we haven’t made this a national emergency. Instead, people blame doors and Ritalin. Some argue that stronger laws won’t deter mass shooters. Why have laws at all, then, if people determined to commit crimes will do so anyway?
I listened to these kids, like the nearly 200,000 other American students who have been exposed to gun violence at school, while they begged for their classmates not be forgotten. They pleaded for us to tell their stories.
“You can’t let it fade away. It’s not something that should be insignificant to anyone,” Mittleman said. “We’ve just endured one of the worst things that people endure. You’re going to listen to us, and we’re going to start making change.”
I promised myself that I would keep telling the stories of children we have failed to protect. The next day, a shooter in southeast Texas opened fire on his classmates, killing 10 people.
News reports described the victims in ways that could be familiar to any parent:
Aaron Kyle McLeod, 15, was described as a bright student and a great athlete who enjoyed a good tennis match against his sister. He was a movie buff who liked watching musicals and playing on his PlayStation.
Angelique Ramirez, 15, was part of the youth ministry at Dayspring Church and attended Sunday services with her brother and parents.
Kimberly Vaughan, 14, was an avid reader and a senior Girl Scout who had learned sign language.
Cynthia Tisdale was a substitute teacher. Her husband has a terminal lung disease. They have four children.
Sabika Sheikh, 17, was an exchange student from Pakistan who was planning to return to her family in a few weeks.
Chris Stone, 17, played football and was described by his sister as adventurous and willing to try anything, including parasailing, jet skiing, zip-lining and hiking in the mountains.
Jared Black turned 17 three days before the shooting. He was looking forward to his birthday party on Saturday.
Shana Fisher, 16, was in her art class when she was killed. Her mom has said the shooter kept making advances on her for four months and she repeatedly told him no.
Glenda Ann Perkins was a substitute teacher. Her family described her as an amazing and devoted daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and friend.
Christian Riley Garcia, 15, was killed while blocking an art classroom door to try to protect his classmates from the gunman. His pastor said he was the first to help, loved football and enjoyed being outdoors.
I listened as four young people who also have lost classmates and friends begged us to hear their voices.
I’m keeping my promise.