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Reflections on Florida

When I was in high school, I worried about whether or not I’d get caught cutting class, or sneaking my boyfriend into the house when my parents weren’t home. I wasn’t what you’d call a “good kid,” and I didn’t hang out with any “good kids.”

On the contrary, my friends and I smoked pot, stayed out past curfew, got in verbal altercations… One time, I got caught shoplifting. Another time, I flashed a police officer and only narrowly escaped arrest.

All these transgressions were survivable, and, ultimately, they allowed me and the people I grew up with to learn from our mistakes. Then again, the people who surrounded me – many of whom had anger issues – didn’t have access to weapons other than their own fists. No one showed up at our school with an AR-15 rifle. It was a different time.

Still, life was far from idyllic. We were biochemically underdeveloped, awkward, and fraught with all sorts of socio and psychological problems. Yet, we lacked the capacity to be destructive on a large scale. We didn’t have access to assault weapons before our brains were fully formed. Societal norms saved us from ourselves.

I’ve been thinking, since the shooting in Florida, about how disenfranchised I felt as a teenager – how inevitable it is for our youth to be tormented by themselves and each other. I don’t think that’s any different than it was when I was a biracial kid with a dictatorial stepdad, a perfect sister, and a mother who didn’t seem to understand me coming of age in Greenwich, Connecticut. What is different is what we chose to do about it.

There’s a need – a desperate, life-or-death need – for a way out of the feelings of ostracization, dehumanization and aloneness that doesn’t involve violence. There has to be a different way. Early intervention, empathy, love… So many things would be helpful. And we have to understand that the developing brains of young people are just that: developing. Their prefrontal cortexes aren’t fully formed. Unlike adults who make decisions with the rational, developed logic-centers of their minds, adolescents think with their amygdalae, which means that their capacity for rational thought is seriously lacking and that they are biologically compelled to make decisions from the emotional part of their brains.

In the same way that we put safeguards in place to try to keep kids from getting behind the wheel, or buying cigarettes, or drinking alcohol, there needs to be a better way of preventing access to deadly firearms.

I was never a homicidal person, but, for years, I struggled with suicidal impulses. I’m positive that, if I’d had a gun (or the ability to get one), as a teenager, I’d have used it on myself just as Nikolas Cruz ostensibly used it on so many others.

I’m not a political person and the last thing I want is to get dragged into the gun control debate. But, hopefully, we can all agree that, when children are murdering children, there’s a problem that demands a solution, and, no, Mr. Trump, I don’t think arming teachers is the answer. Let’s not match violence with violence. Let’s figure out how to mitigate the large-scale destructiveness that can come from being young and feeling alone, misunderstood and angry.

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