Friday, February 16, 2018

Parkland School Shooting Promotes Demand for Change

I was out yesterday and noticed the American flag at half mast. I thought to myself, "this can't be good. What's happened now?" Curiosity got the best of me and I found out.


Another school shooting. One of the worst to date.

My heart goes out to the students, faculty and community surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, just before the end of the school day Nikolas Cruz (who confessed to his crime), took an AR-15, he legally acquired, and opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing 17 students and faculty, injuring 15 more and changing the lives of the community forever.

Friends and Family pay tribute to Parkland school shooting victims. 

I didn't know how to respond at first. Some many things went through my head...

First came incredible sadness. The loss of so many in a senseless act is devastating. The students who no longer have the opportunity to follow their dreams, the instructors who sacrificed their own lives to save others, the family and friends left to grieve the grotesque tragedy leaves a hole in my heart. I did not know these beautiful souls, they are over 3,000 miles away from me, and yet with the wonders of social media and connections of the Internet, I can share their pain because we are all connected, near and far.

Next came an anger that I did not expect in myself. Another school shooting? Really? We get to go through all of this again. I still remember the the Sandy Hook massacre (2012), Virginia Tech shooting (2007), and the Columbine Massacre (1999). That covers every academic level -- college, high school and elementary school.

If you really want to see something depressing, the list of violent encounters in schools in the United States is outrageous and increasing. During the entirety of the 19th century, there were 28 school shootings. The 20th century brought a total of 227 school shootings. This century, we are already at 208 school shootings and we are only 18 years in. This is unacceptable.

I have a daughter in public school, I don't want her to fear a place that should be safe. Here's something I can't get out of my head...these kids can never unsee the atrocious things that happened that day. There are even several accounts of video footage on the scene thanks to cell phones.

In response to the emotional turbulence of the event, the school district superintendent, Robert Runcie, has declared that the building where the shooting occurred will be torn down. It is that loss of security that really devastates. When a place you felt safe gets attacked, it can shake your entire world.

Something different is happening after this catastrophe. Yes, people are mourning, but they are also calling out for action. Why is this happening? Why does it keep getting worse? And what is being done about it? People want answers and demand reform.

Even students want to stand up and defend their right to feel safe in their school. Nearby, South Broward High School, gather outside of their school to protest gun violence this morning. We, as a society, are no longer sitting quietly for the next victim. Heads are turning to President Trump and Congress to make some overdue changes to the law. The call has been cast in wake of the Parkland School tragedy for extensive background checks and mental health evaluation before gun purchases,  elimination of the gun show loophole and to stop lobbying from the NRA.

This is a beautiful protest. Superintendent Runcie states, "The students have been pretty clear. …They’re all saying 'We want sensible gun laws. This has got to stop.' We’ve had over 200 people shot in schools since Sandy Hook. Virtually nothing has been done. So we either get it fixed in this generation, or kids are saying they will fix it in theirs. My belief is that most change in societies occur when young people — the next generation — get involved, get energized and really sustain action to get results. In my view, it’s going to take a movement — not much different than the civil rights movement — to get this thing changed.”

Yes, there is only so much Congress can do about a mentally disturbed person intent on destruction. However, any action that could reduce the obtention of fire arms and the aid for mental health issues is a step in the right direction.

Florida's U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, in particular, has seen push back from the community about gun laws following Wednesday's deadly shooting. Rubio is in the top ten for Congress career funding from the NRA at over 3 million dollars. This information, along with quotes like, "Gun restrictions would not have prevented the mass shooting," has the community wondering exactly where his priorities are. Their protest is presented in the form of Billboards placed near his office in Doral, Fla.

The Congressman is not the only shortcoming in this story. The FBI admits to falling short in following up on the multiple warnings about gunman Nikolas Cruz and his "desire to kill." Heads are also turning to President Trump for support and change. Trump visited hospitalized victims and stated his plan to initiate mental health awareness. And yet, the President still remains silent on the lax restrictions of gun laws. It seems the White House's legislative action on firearms is coming into question.

I don't know what it means, but it is interesting to note that the Parkland School massacre has been one of the first in a very long while where the perpetrator was not killed or commit suicide during the act. In fact, it was confirmed that Cruz, who was previously expelled from for disciplinary reasons from the school, went to Walmart, got a drink at Subway, and then went to McDonald's after his six minutes of destruction on campus. He was apprehended while leaving McDonald's without incident.

So here we are on the other side of another mass shooting. It is not only schools--it's concert venues, nightclubs, and even churches. The list of mass shootings in America is getting longer and more deadly.

When I feel helpless, I do research. Knowledge is power and there are many facets to this story, which seems to still be unfolding. I've never been very active in the conflict over gun laws. In many respects, the ability to own a handgun or a hunting rifle makes sense. However, these mass shootings are happening more often with semi-automatic weapons, which have no place in our communities.

At this point, I see two very important lessons to learn from all of this. One, tragedy is often a catalyst for change. I, with millions of others, mourn the loss of the 17 people killed, 15 people injured and hundreds directly affected by the Parkland School Massacre. But their deaths are not in vain if it causes a rise to reform gun laws, assess mental health and bring awareness to the necessity of change.

The second lesson I see is to live in the moment. Tell your family and friends that you love them as often as you can. Tragedy happens too often by malicious intent or just freak accidents. You never know what moment will be your last. Make the most of your time and live a life of no regrets.

For now there will be mourning for the victims, healing for the community near and far, and a national conversation about how we want to live. More and more grassroots movement protests about gun-control are entering the scene including Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. As Elizabeth Banks said, we are beyond "thoughts and prayers," it is time for policy and change.

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