Gail Curtis

Gail Curtis spoke during an End Gun Violence march and protest Saturday, June 11 in Rockland. She is a recent graduate of Camden Hills Regional High School. 

I graduated from Camden Hills Regional High School (June 10). I had the privilege of experiencing the profound joy of walking across the stage as my family cheered, accepting my diploma, shaking my principal’s hand, and graduating.

But there are thousands of students in the high school class of 2022 that didn’t get to experience this. Thousands of students who will never walk across a stage, brimming with pride, happiness, and potential, as they graduate from high school.

According to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention and America’s Health Ratings, the third leading cause of death among children aged one to eighteen is cancer. This year, the government has allocated $6.9 billion dollars to the National Cancer Institute. The NCI conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other activities related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. They are attacking the root of the issue.

The second leading cause of death among America’s children is motor vehicle deaths. Car companies spend billions of dollars each year on technological advancements aimed at making driving safer. Some of these ground-breaking advancements include active health monitoring, brain wave technology, AI dashboards, and safety sensors. We have airbags, seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, adaptive headlights, traction control. In 2020, the US government spent just short of a billion dollars on vehicle safety programs, highway safety research and development, and highway traffic safety grants.

Additionally, as part of Biden’s $1 trillion dollar infrastructure package, Congress created a requirement for all automakers to find a method to prevent drunk driving. They are attacking this issue at its root.

The third leading cause of death among children aged one to eighteen is gun violence. Over the past two decades, gun violence prevention research has been exceptionally underfunded and lags far behind research on other causes of death in the US. After the Parkland School Shooting, Congress set aside a billion dollars for a wide-ranging grant program that schools used for violence prevention, counseling, and crisis management. They spent this money on panic buttons, metal detectors, security systems, and cameras.

Many online articles said this money was spent on “school safety.” But that isn’t true. Students will not feel safe in their schools if they are surrounded by metal detectors, panic buttons, and surveillance equipment. If we are trying to make schools safer, we need to pass gun control legislation.

We need to ban assault weapons. We need to ban the possession or transfer of large-capacity magazines. We need to raise the purchasing age of semiautomatic weapons from 18 to 21. We need stricter training background check requirements for gun owners. We need to attack this problem at its root.

Today is day 162 of 2022. We have had 246 mass shootings in America in that time. Gun violence is an epidemic that sometimes appears too widespread, too frequent, too ingrained in America’s DNA to ever change. But change can happen. Change has happened all around the world. We just need to fight for it.

Take Britain as an example. Britain had a strong culture of gun ownership until 1987 when a British gunman shot and killed 16 people. In response, the country banned semiautomatic weapons, and banned handguns shortly after in 1996 in response to a school shooting. Britain now has one of the lowest gun-related death rates among developed countries.

Take Australia. In 1996, an Australian man open fired on a café with a semiautomatic rifle, killing 35 people and wounding another 28. The Prime Minister took immediate action. Australia banned automatic and semiautomatic weapons and sharply restricted legal ownership of firearms. Australia also introduced a mandatory buyback of all guns declared illegal, seizing and destroying over 650,000 guns. In just seven years after this, the suicide rate in Australia declined by 57%, and the average firearm homicide rate decreased by 42%. The United States needs to learn from these countries. Perhaps the methods Britain and Australia employed would not be as effective in America; we are very different countries, after all.

It is not the methods they used but the swiftness — and the severity —of their actions we need to learn from. We need to prioritize human life over the possession of weapons, as those countries have done, especially when those lives
belong to America’s most vulnerable citizens.

I have never personally been affected by gun violence. Neither have the majority of my classmates. But even living in Maine, where there has never been a school shooting, the possibility of it hangs heavy over us all; a dark cloud following each of us throughout our schools. The terror, the pain, and the dread of gun violence touches all students everywhere.
As a high school student, I’ve heard the following things spoken throughout my school’s hallways.

“If this person were a school shooter, they’d kill me, for sure.”

“If there was a school shooting, this is where I’d hide.”

“If there was a school shooting, I’d want to be with this teacher. He’d take them down.”

“This person seems like a school shooter.”

“This person acts like a school shooter.”

“This person gives off “school shooter” vibes.”

I know this is insensitive and crude, but this is how teenagers deal with things. This is how we cope with fear. We joke rather than face the fact we are all truly terrified something like this could happen to us. I have had nightmares about school shootings. So have many of my friends.

And we are all aware of the real possibility this nightmare could become a reality. For so many other schools, families, and friends all around our country, it already has.

A little over a week ago, my school had a “stay put.” A “stay put” is a nicer way of saying “lockdown.” I was in the senior lounge with my friends as we speculated about what might be happening. We weren’t allowed to go outside or be dismissed. Our vice principal was crying. Someone told us that a man was trying to get inside the building.

The police chief was outside. This was only two or three days after the tragedy in Uvalde. I remember sitting with my friends, chuckling nervously at some stupid joke someone made, trying not to show how genuinely concerned I was. I also remember eyeing the closest exit, ready to text my parents that I loved them, ready to run at the first loud noise I heard.

It turned out to be nothing, just a disgruntled parent who thought a personal visit to the school would be more effective than a strongly-worded email. The “stay put” ended, and we went about our days normally. But the fear I felt, and I’m sure that many of my classmates shared, stayed with me.

Sometimes I feel like I am helpless in this fight against gun violence. I’m just a seventeen-year-old kid with barely one diploma to my name. What change can I really make? In the words of Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

One voice ringing out into the world won’t make much difference. But if we all use our voices, it’s a chorus, and we can’t possibly be ignored. We can sign petitions, and attend protests. We can write to our legislators, our governor, our senators, and our representatives and demand they fight for gun reform. We can donate to organizations such as Everytown and Sandy Hook Promise that are battling gun violence.

We can be loud. We CAN make a change.

I graduated high school. I mourn for those who never will. I mourn for the children whose lives have been stolen due to gun violence, the children who will never get to graduate, or get their driver’s license, or take the SATs. The children that will never get to apply to college and experience the joy of acceptance. I mourn for my lost classmates. I mourn for their lost futures.

My heart goes out to all of the families of the victims of the terrible and senseless violence of the Uvalde shooting and to all the families and victims that came before and all who come after. Because there will be more victims and more grieving families if we don’t start taking immediate, harsh, and permanent action against gun violence in America.