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For Our Generation, The Great American Tragedy

Read this story in Fresh Ink for Teens

The terrorist attack on Sept. 11 should be the great American tragedy in my life, but it wasn’t. I had no idea what was going on. My parents tell me I called it the “best day ever” because I got picked up early from kindergarten and my dad came home early from his job down the street from the U.S. Capitol. Apparently we sat in the living room and played board games all day. The TV and radio were off because my parents didn’t want the news to scare my little brother and me.

But I don’t remember any of those stories. My earliest memory of 9/11 is the one-year anniversary, when I was in first grade. My entire school stood in a circle on the soccer field around the American flag and we had a moment of silence. I didn’t really understand what was going on or why what happened was such a big deal, but when I envision that moment in my mind, I see a bird’s-eye view of 200 elementary school students surrounding an American flag and learning, for the first time, to blindly hope.

On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 I walked into the newspaper room at my high school and saw the entire staff huddled around one computer: completely silent, learning, blindly hoping.

For me, the great American tragedy was when we learned that a gunman killed 27 victims and then himself — 20 of whom were young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Sandy Hook is a school much like the one I attended when I was in first grade; where we held hands, prayed for an America safe from evil and blindly hoped.

The Sandy Hook massacre is a tragedy because I realize what happens when we just blindly hope.

It is a tragedy because I realize that evil is not just the faceless terrorist who grew up in a place far from the one he is attacking.

It is a tragedy because I realize that the gunman targeted young people just like the shooter at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo., and so on.

We are the future, but not if we are the targets.

This event can be our rallying cry for gun control and better mental health care. Some of my best friends through BBYO live in Connecticut, and I can only imagine how the tragedy has hurt them. I want to act to not only prevent more horrors like this, but to also give my friends a sense of safety and closure.

Many of us are too young to vote, but voting is just one of many ways to articulate our political interests. We can write letters to our congressional representatives, sign petitions, advocate and educate others and ourselves.

The tragedy in Newtown not only can be, but should be, our rallying cry for gun control. A similar incident occurred in Port Arthur, Australia, in 1996: Martin Bryant ate his lunch then took out two military-style, semi-automatic rifles and killed 35 men, women and children. Following the attack, Australian Prime Minister John Howard banned all assault weapons, such as semi-automatic rifles, and enacted tough licensing and ownership controls. Since the implementation of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, gun ownership and homicide from firearms has decreased.

A national tragedy forced Australia to implement strict laws on gun control. According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll after the Newtown tragedy, 51 percent of those surveyed think gun control laws should be more strict. Twenty-nine percent think they should remain the same and 14 percent think they should be less strict. Like Australia, America wants change.

It was OK for us to blindly hope when we stood in a circle around the American flag in first grade, but we’re too old now to put our fate in other people’s hands. We can no longer close our eyes and hope someone else will voice our thoughts. We need to act. We need to talk and feel passionate and get angry and get sad and embrace these emotions so that we cannot sit back and wait.

I know that the Sandy Hook tragedy could be the tipping point of gun control laws. I also know that some say everything will settle down, that we will return to our lives and nothing will come of this. Maybe we’ll remember Newtown once a year. Maybe we will stand in a circle around an American flag and blindly hope.

But maybe this is our rallying cry. Maybe out of our sadness, anger and fear we open our eyes, become aware and create movement and proactive change regarding gun control and the treatment of mental health illnesses.

Faceless terrorists scare me. Burning buildings scare me. Evil gunmen scare me. But what scares me most of all is the idea that the only reaction from Newtown will be blind hope.

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