“in twenty years, America alone has lost 683 lives in 81 mass shootings, and we’ve done virtually nothing” – Cullen 10

Last year, my sophomores chose current nonfiction books that present an argument for a book club project. One of those books was She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

But, I think the most popular book that students chose to read was Parkland by Dave Cullen.

“This generation had grown up on lockdown drills — and this time, they were ready”

Cullen 6

Cullen took on the task of writing about the shooting at Columbine High School in his book, Columbine. When Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida suffered the loss of seventeen people when an active shooter with a semi-automatic rifle besieged their school.

From Day 1, Cullen covered the story of the shoot, despite his ongoing healing from his trauma by proxy from covering the Columbine shooting.

“I swore I would never go back. I spent ten years researching and writing Columbine, and discovered that post-traumatic stress disorder can strike even those who have not witnessed a trauma directly”

Cullen 4

However, Cullen notes that the immediate action young people in Parkland took on the day of the shooting gave him hope.

“What drew me was the group of extraordinary kids, I wanted to cover their response. There are strains of sadness woven into this story, but this is not an account of grief. These kids chose a story of hope”

Cullen 5

He witnessed the formation of a movement — March for Our Lives. His book takes readers on a journey of the young creators of a movement to end school shootings and violent killings. 

“It was speed that launched this movement, and a breadth of talent that packed its punch”

Cullen 3

The voices of students-turned-activists, Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alfonso Calderon, and Sarah Chadwick, pepper the book, bringing their grief, anger, and fire to life for readers. It’s become commonplace for Americans to feel desensitization when it comes to mass shootings; the voices of the students in Parkland disrupt that and demand our attention.

Cullen makes sure to spotlight the efforts of these young people and is careful to shine practically zero light on the shooter himself, so as to not glorify or martyrize the assailant.

“One name will not appear in this book: that of the killer, who quickly grew irrelevant. Although he inadvertently set off an uprising, he is of little significance himself. We must examine the perpetrators as a class, both to spot threats and address underlying causes. And it’s fruitful to study influential cases — influential to subsequent killers — particularly the false narrative of the Columbine killers as heroes fighting for the bullied and outcasts everywhere. Most of the perpetrators buy into that myth, which is why it’s imperative that the media avoid creating new ones by jumping to conclusions too soon.”

Cullen 9

It’s impossible to not think about all the mass shootings that have happened since Parkland (there have been 12, by the way, with the loss of 116 lives). Still oscillating in my mind as I write this is the deaths of six Asian women in Atlanta Georgia on March 16 of this year. The narrative that emerged in the aftermath of this mass-killing was that the gunman “had a bad day.” But, in Parkland, Cullen warns against jumping to this conclusion when we reflect on other perpetrators of mass shootings:

“Tune in to the coverage of any mass shooting, and you will hear the word ‘snap’ bandied about. Journalists can’t seem to resist the term . . . . yank that word from the discussion. It’s not a terminology problem we’re quibbling over; it’s our basic conception of the shooters. These are not impulsive acts or bursts of rage; there is rarely a moment when the perpetrator flips from good to bad. It’s a long, slow summer, a gradual evolution, or more often a devolution . . . . The planning phase typically lasts weeks or months. In the case of the deeply depressed, it typically comes at the tail end of a far longer downward spiral into depression”

Cullen 29

The March for Our Lives took place in Washington on March 24, 2018 and inspired protests and awareness events across the country.

“The march on Washington had been covered as the culmination of their movement, but the kids had engineered it as a launchpad. Where they were headed was still hazy — they were making it up as they went along. But they had an instinct”

Cullen 2

What felt different about the Parkland response was the urgency to finally take real action; “thoughts and prayers” no longer sufficed. Students wanted to see real change and feel certain they were safe in school.

“What had begun with good intentions after horror like Columbine rang hollow nineteen years and 81 mass shootings later. The Parkland kids welcomed thoughts and prayers in addition to solutions, not instead

Cullen 21

The Parkland kids didn’t go after conservatives and they didn’t idolize liberals. They focused on guns and gun policy alone.

“‘The guns have changed but our laws have not . . . . When adults tell me I have the right to own a gun, all I can hear is, “My right to own a gun outweighs your student’s right to live.” All I hear is mine, mine, mine”

Cullen 52

“‘The problem in our country right now is people are only really willing or able to talk to people who already agree with them . . . . Cameron, you’re a child. Because you’re a kid, maybe through the eyes of a child, preaching to both sides, maybe people will listen”

Cullen 84

Their main opponents, though, were politicians, the NRA, and an entire culture revolving around the Second Amendment.

“Preaching to the converted was easy. The real slog, if they wanted to get serious, was to convince hunters, collectors, and enthusiasts that no one was coming for their guns. They would not convince them today, or this year. But eventually”

Cullen 2

“The NRA was an easy target — but also slightly off target. The NRA was their sparring partner; they would never defeat it, and why should they? It had a right to exist. The problem was politicians in its thralls, and the goal was to break that connection, remove the NRA boot from their necks. If every politician in American began voting their conscience, this would be solved tomorrow”

Cullen 85

“Demonizing your adversaries just sealed off ears”

Cullen 109

I know there are a plethora of high emotions that surround school shootings, gun laws, and violence in America. Sometimes it is easier for us to bury our heads in the sand and not talk about it.

“the of defeatism wouldn’t smother the Parkland uprising but fuel its lift-off. And it felt so amazing once the fog suddenly lifted. An axiom of addiction is that you have to hit rock bottom before you are ready to take on the harsh reality of recovery. America had hit rock bottom”

Cullen 9

“paralysis is a learned response, and kids are often still appalled. The MFOL kids were”

Cullen 103

Cullen reports the MFOL kids’ demands to solve the virus of gun violence in the United States:

“(1) universal, comprehensive background checks; (2) a digitized, searchable database for the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives); (3) funding for the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence; (4) a ban on high capacity magazines; (5) a ban on semi automatic assault rifles”

Cullen 13

But, does that solve anything? Does that help any of us heal from an epidemic that wounds us on what has become nearly a weekly basis?

I don’t think it will help us heal. 

Neither will standing still. 

“‘I don’t want this to be another mass shooting. I don’t want this just to be something that people forget.’ He said it affects every one of us “and if you think it doesn’t, believe me, it will. Especially if we don’t take action to step up and stop things like that. For example going to your congressman and asking them for help and doing things like that’”

Hogg in Cullen 17

“‘ideas are great but without action ideas stay ideas, and children die’”

Hogg in Cullen 20

We have to do something. We start solutions and stop when the grief wears off, when people can’t offer “thoughts and prayers” one more time.

“Movements are born from hope, but they are built brick by brick”

Cullen 96

“Individualized projects work best, but organizers are much more effective working together”

Cullen 111

Then another shooting startles us awake again and we are right back where we started.

Leave your thoughts on solutions in the comments. Channel the Parkland students and let’s fix this. Now.

Trigger Warnings: anxiety; bullying (online abuse); death; depression; loss of a loved one; terrorism; trauma (PTSD); violence (school shooting)

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