April 20, 2018 marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado. In this massacre that shocked the nation, twelve students and one teacher were killed and 24 were injured. At the time, it was one of the most deadly mass shootings in America; today, however, it is no longer in the top ten. According to The Washington Post’s database, there have been 216 school shootings since Columbine, and 210,000 students experienced gun violence during school hours on campus. Almost two decades later, the national debate continues to revolve around the cause and solution to ending gun violence in schools.
Many seniors were born in the year of Columbine, therefore this generation of St. Ursula Academy students has never known a country without mass school shootings. Safety precautions in both primary and secondary schools have drastically changed as a result of increased gun violence. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 46.5% of US public schools during the 2003-04 school year performed drills to prepare students for intruders through active shooter drills. This percentage almost doubled by the 2015-2016 school year at 94.6%, which now included lockdown drills in addition to active shooter drills. In the wake of the Parkland Shooting February 14, 2018, the Ohio Department of Homeland Security has also created a training video for school shootings that is to be distributed to each school district.
Immediate changes at SUA after the tragedy in Parkland were the announcement of drills due to the shooter there pulling the fire alarm to get students out of class. After this shooting, Mr. Maliborski and Dr.Thomas spoke to the school’s resource officer. Mr. Maliborski says they “ went through, again, what our procedures are, [and] what the Cincinnati Police procedure is just to verify we were doing everything we should be doing.” Both stressed the importance of teaching students skills that translate to any situation. “I do think what we do and what we teach in terms of this should translate over to what happens if you’re at a mall, if you’re at a movie theater, [and] what happens in your college dorm,’ says Mr. Maliborski. He adds: “We have to be really honest about what we do and talk real plainly and directly about it.” Dr. Thomas agrees: “For us, in a school, we have to empower you to keep yourself safe.” Core to Ursuline beliefs, she says, they are “always reflective about what is happening and what might we need to do to enhance it.”
In addition to school policy changing since Columbine, Congress began to debate gun control and continues to do so today. In the first ten years following the shooting, Congress added background checks to gun shows and trigger locks to newly sold guns, a ban on 19 military-style assault weapons expired, and fingerprint scanning for gun licenses and purchases was implemented. After 2009, over 100 gun control bills were introduced, including a renewal of the ban that was lifted on the military-style weapons, but never passed on the Congress floor.
After the death of 14 students and 3 with 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), however, there is now a push for common sense gun control by students around the country. Along with several national school walkouts, students of MSD also organized a national protest called March for Our Lives. An estimated 2 million people attended marches around the country, and in Washington, D.C. there were about 800,000 people, making it the largest single day protest on the capital. On the 19th anniversary of Columbine, these same students organized a National Walkout at 10AM.
For many students, protests and calls for legislative action are the way to honor the victims of Columbine and all school shootings. At St. Ursula Academy on April 20, 2018, students organized an event to remember the 269 students that have been killed after Columbine. The demonstration started with several girls approaching Dr. Thomas and Mr. Maliborski; they then reached out to student body presidents, Audrey Felton ‘18 and Annaliese Andsager ‘18, and from there the movement at SUA began. A letter written by students demanding action by representatives was read at the demonstration. Felton, who took part in organizing the event and writing the letter, says, “I was motivated to plan a demonstration for the SUA community to participate in after seeing the great disgust, anger, and sadness in the student body as week after week we’d hear about more school shootings.” Students that attended the event were encouraged to sign the letter being sent and to take a sticker with a number 1 through 269, to represent each of the fallen students. Kerrigan Wessel ‘18, who took a sticker, says she chose to take part “after hearing testimonials from students affected by school shootings, especially from Stoneman Douglas High School.” Emma Smith ‘18 got involved by contributing to the letter, and says, “School should be a place where kids can focus on their education and friendships, not their evacuation or active shooter plans.” Lily Paff ‘20 participated in hopes that by “standing up for ourselves as students, something can happen, and can change. It doesn't have to be political and heated all the time, it can just be about respecting lives that are lost, and making sure no one else's life gets taken.”
From the beginning, Mr. Maliborski and Dr. Thomas wanted to make it clear that the demonstration was a unified effort. “The girls came up with the letter and I was really proud of the way it was focused. We know that this can be a tough and ugly political issue and we didn’t want anything we were doing to go down that path,” says Mr. Maliborski. He also says if people weren’t “quite sure if it was political or not political, or if there was an agenda or not an agenda, I hope people walked away saying, ‘No, we can talk about things like this and people can have different opinions.’”
Felton offers advice to students who wish to take part in the movement: “Put aside political differences and fight for the protection of all people.” She says, “I advise those who want to get involved to use their voices.”
For those looking to write their representatives as students here did, you can find out who your officials are and how contact them by visiting https://whoismyrepresentative.com/. There are also apps such as ResistBot that connect constituents to their representatives by sending the user’s text message as a letter or fax. If you are 18, you can register to vote online at Rock the Vote (https://www.rockthevote.org/register-to-vote/) or Vote.Org (https://www.vote.org/register-to-vote/).
While the solution to ending gun violence is still unclear 19 years after the tragedy at Columbine, this new wave of activism in students is pushing representatives to create laws to protect students and teachers at school. In the words of Felton, “Although school safety should be an inherent right not a battle, it is our battle to fight. If we don’t stand up and fight, who will?”