“Thoughts and prayers.” “Thoughts and prayers.” “You have my thoughts and prayers.”

Last week, Thom Tillis, U.S. Senator for North Carolina, tweeted “Tragic news out of Florida. Please keep the victims, their families, first responders and the community in your thoughts and prayers.”

We want more than just your thoughts and prayers. Your thoughts and prayers don’t take millions of U.S. guns out of circulation. They do not keep thousands of people from being killed due to gun violence each year, and they did not keep 17 innocent people from being ruthlessly murdered in the seventh school shooting this year.

What we want is more gun control.

The third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history happened just last week. On Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS), a former student used a legally obtained AR-15 rifle to massacre students in Parkland, Florida. He killed 17 innocent human beings and injured 15 within seven minutes, less than the amount of time it takes to walk from McHenry Library to Porter College.

Illustration by Ania Webb

The shooter was able to do this because he had a high-powered weapon within his reach. A weapon that was easier to obtain than a handgun which, in Florida, requires a 3-day waiting period and the buyer to be 21. Shockingly, Florida allows any 18-year-old to waltz into a firearms shop and buy an AR-15 rifle the same day, as long as they can pass a background check that takes mere minutes.

It’s no coincidence the U.S. has the highest number of gun- related deaths in the developed world when we unconscionably boast both the least gun control legislation and the most guns, clocking in at over 350 million — more than one gun for every person in the U.S. Appallingly, half the guns in the country, 20 percent of all the guns in the world, are owned by only 3 percent of the U.S. population.

Though the shooter at MSDHS used a near military-grade weapon, the reality is that gun control for all shooting weapons must be established across the country and it must be strict. Yearly, there are 13,000 gun-related homicides nationwide, and nearly half of those involve a handgun.

Gun violence gnaws on the U.S., and weakens our already pathetic reputation on gun control.

Japan requires extensive education and training for gun owners, as well as physical and mental health checks on a regular basis. Enacting even a portion of these restrictions at the federal level could save thousands of lives every year. Conversely, in the U.S. you could just as easily buy a coffee as an AR-15 assault rifle during your work break.

Issues surrounding shooting tragedies can include lack of proper mental health care, bullying, widespread violent imagery in media and much more. But
these incidents cannot happen so frequently and devastatingly without
the use of guns, which is exactly why gun control should be at the front of legislative concern.

Many students who were present during the mass shooting last week have banded together to kickstart a nationwide effort for gun control reform.

“You’re either with us or against us. We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around,” Cameron Kasky, a junior at MSDHS, told CNN his message to those in office.

Indeed, things are happening across the nation at the state level. But they are moving too slowly. These teenagers, many of whom can’t even vote yet, have made more progress in barely a week than our legislators have made in months. They organized the March for Our Lives for next month, when students across the country will walk out of their classrooms in support of gun control. They took a trip to Tallahassee, Florida’s state capitol, to meet with legislators to discuss gun control laws. They’ve made quite an effort.

Last week, President Donald Trump, who the NRA supported in the 2016 presidential election with $30.3 million, tweeted, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”

Well, Trump, you’re actually right. No one should ever feel unsafe in an institution designed for learning and education. That’s why it is imperative that legislation outlining increased gun control, far beyond a meager bump stock ban, is introduced and passed as soon as possible.

Young people are taking hold of the conversation surrounding gun control and school shootings, and that is a great thing. Students from MSDHS are speaking out with ferocity and anger, and making their voices heard.

“They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS,” said Emma Gonzalez, senior at MSDHS, during a gun control rally. “They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

Students have just as much power and knowledge as adults, and we need to take that power into our hands and enact change. We can, we must, and we will.