Melody Hookah Lounge

Melody Hookah Lounge Sign, Feb. 20 2022

Two weeks ago, I spent the first half of a Friday night downtown celebrating a friend’s birthday and the rest of the night texting friends to make sure everyone was safe from a shooting. 

After midnight on Saturday morning, students received an email notifying us that shots were fired at an intersection near campus. We got four more emails throughout that night about the shooting, only adding to the confusion about what was happening and whether we were still in danger. 

What there wasn’t confusion or surprise about was that a shooting was happening –– after all, Gen Z has been deemed by activists as the school shooting generation. We took time out of our high school classes for memorials of peers across the country who would never graduate or join us in college. 

On that Friday, I texted my dad to let him know I was safe while I sat on the floor and called my friend who was sitting in a dark apartment because, starting at age 6, we were learning how to read, write and lockdown from an active shooter: turn off the lights and sit on the floor. 

So we did, because in that moment, it was all we knew how to do. There is no evidence that these lockdown drills protect anyone, but there is evidence that they cause students and teachers lasting emotional and physical harm. These drills are nothing more than security theater and an attempt to do something to make up for the fact that the adults who should have protected us never delivered on safer gun laws. We sat quietly in the dark and hoped the lockdowns would only ever be drills. 

On Saturday morning, rumors faded and the truth of what happened became clear. People went about their day— everyone except Isiah Robinson, an 18-year-old high school student who will never get to go to college.

The rest of us still had assignments due while the four surviving victims were in the hospital; their lives changed forever. 

And while we're disgustingly desensitized to these horrific events, spending our whole lives surrounded by gun violence has changed us all too. 

I spent last summer interning at Brady, a nonprofit gun violence prevention organization, where I had the chance to work with gun violence survivors. It was there I learned that this “survivor” label is not just for those who had experienced a shooting firsthand but also for all those whose lives have been scarred forever by gun violence.

In that way, for the second time in as many decades, all of Virginia Tech and Blacksburg are survivors of gun violence. In that way, our whole generation are survivors. Our youth has been marred by guns. 

But we aren't kids anymore. We can do more than the adults that let us down. We can move past empty reactions and 24-hour news cycles. We can give more than thoughts and prayers and lockdown drills. 

We can fight for safer gun laws, like universal background checks. Polling from Gallup shows that they’re supported by 96% of Americans, and one of the easiest ways to keep guns away from people who shouldn't have them

We can demand Congress hold the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) accountable. The ATF should be regulating bad actors in the gun industry, yet around 90% of guns used in crimes come from 5% of arms dealers according to last available information collected from ATF gun trace data.

We can get involved with organizations like Team ENOUGH's youth lobbying collective to lead the fight for lifesaving legislation. 

And if your representatives don't listen to your demands, use your voice and your vote to find someone who will.

Sarah Brady, one of Brady’s namesakes and founders, once said, "If you can't change the laws, change the lawmakers."

In November 2022, 34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up for election. According to The Economist, young people are the largest voting bloc in the country, so we can decide what our legislature will look like. We can ensure they know that gun violence prevention is a major voting issue. 

Isiah Robinson was the captain of his football team, getting ready to play college ball next year. He was a son and a friend. He was a kid, not even out of high school. He won't get to go downtown for a friend's birthday. He was let down, but the rest of us, the ones taught to sit on the floor and turn out the lights, can fight not to let anyone else down.

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