NORTH SALEM, N.Y.-As a 17-year-old senior in high school, I have not been impacted by many national and political events the way I have been by the tragedy in Parkland, Fla.

All across the country, countless numbers of people grieve for the kids who lost their lives so abruptly. In response to this, many in America have strongly advocated for change regarding the sale and production of firearms. Yet, people have been protesting these issues for years and children are still being murdered. How can we stop these shootings? There is no simple answer that leaves everyone happy. Trying to find an answer sparks debate, and America loves that. That’s why I’m grateful to live in this country: We have so many issues that bring us together in conversation. However, at the end of the day, talk is just talk. Sensible laws need to be written that ensure people’s safety.

This country was founded with guns. Across the globe, valiant men have fought with guns to protect and share our ideas about democracy. Without a doubt, these weapons of war have helped us. Perhaps that’s why we’re so attached to them. I suppose there are a few other reasons for our infatuation with guns: They sound and look pretty cool, you can hunt much more effectively with them, they give their owners a sense of security, and because it’s our right as Americans to carry them.

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An entire organization was established to make sure we can have guns for these reasons. I’ll admit they’re fun, but they’re also dangerous. I’ve had the opportunity to work with them before. A few years ago, I went up to Vermont with my dad and his buddies. We stayed in a large cabin near a small lake. It was legal to shoot targets around there. Because I had shown an interest in firearms before, my dad had his friends brought a .22 caliber rifle and a 12 gauge pump action shotgun. My excitement was insurmountable. However, I knew they were dangerous and that I had to be careful with them.

On the day we shot the guns, it was the morning after a minor blizzard. Snow covered the ground and trees beautifully. The sky was clear and the sun was shining down through the crisp, cold air. The guns lay atop a wooden table. I’ll admit, they looked pretty cool. My target was a paper plate nailed to a tree about 25 yards down range. After a couple of minutes of being lectured, I was given the .22 caliber rifle to preload. I was comfortable handling the thing, even though it was my first time. Swiftly bringing the scope up to my eye, I pressed the stock against my shoulder, took a breath and fired. Surprisingly, I felt little to no recoil and it wasn’t that loud at all. I decided to squeeze off a couple more rounds. “This is kinda fun,” I thought to myself despite missing the paper plate entirely.

After a few minutes of shooting, I asked to see the shotgun. It was all smiles as the shotgun was handed to me. The shells had already been loaded into the firearm and it was pumped for me. Upon taking it into my hands, I noticed how heavy it was. I held it at my hip, fearing the recoil. After aiming toward the plate, I pulled the trigger. The recoil, as I expected, was powerful. Additionally, I went deaf for a couple of seconds. This gun was a bit more intimidating than the rifle. Once we were all done laughing, I placed the firearm back onto the table. That was the extent of my experience with handling guns. 

At 10 a.m. on March 14, high schoolers across the country walked out of their schools for 17 minutes to support the victims of the Parkland shooting and express their dissatisfaction with the current gun control laws. I’m one of those students. Youth involvement in politics is nothing new. I’m sure some of the people reading this piece remember the 1960s and all the movements that went on then. Those people must’ve felt a great deal of righteousness and pride. I think I got a taste of those feelings for those 17 minutes. For those who don’t know, the 17 minutes represented one minute for every person who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. To add to the catharsis, the names of the victims were announced at the start of every minute. It was quite the scene. My peers and teachers stood respectfully, some holding signs, in front of the main entrance. Police surrounded us with their cars parked to form a perimeter. Nearby, the flag flapped with the wind and the sun shone down on us. All was silent and still. No one dared to check the time. Everyone was practicing another right, their First Amendment right, and honestly, it was beautiful. That was a moment I’ll never forget.