By: Sarina D. (’20)
February 14th, 2018 will go down as the most memorable Valentine’s Day in American history – and not for its record chocolate and flower sales. Our nation will mark every Valentine’s day from now as another year passed since one of the most devastating and large-scale school shootings in our country’s history. It will mark another year passed since 19-year- old Nikolas Cruz hopped in an Uber on a warm Florida morning, headed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and pulled out an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to execute what would be one of the most infamous school shootings in global history. And most importantly, it will mark another year passed since seventeen families were robbed of their loved ones, and since seventeen students and faculty members were suddenly robbed of their lives and futures in the midst of a regular school day.
Everyone-especially students- has been keeping up with the unfolding story of the shooting, so I won’t go into the excruciating details of what has become pages and pages of news stories. But here’s a quick summary of what we know so far:
Nicolas Cruz is a nineteen year old ex-student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His father died when he was young, and when his mother died later in teenage years, he was taken in by a local Parkland family. He has owned a collection of guns for quite some time now, and was always deemed troubled or dark by his peers and teachers. In fact, after breaking up with his girlfriend, his mother’s passing, and leaving Douglass High School, he was seen torturing animals and was noted for posting disturbing messages on social media. About a year ago, someone spent a twenty-five minute phone call with the FBI listing a number of reasons Cruz was a threat and cautioning the FBI of a potential violent act. Perhaps the largest red flag, however, was Cruz posting the message “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube video. On February 14th, 2018, he did just that, setting off the fire alarm at the high school to cause chaos, and then walking into a variety of classrooms to shoot students and teachers.
Seventeen people died in the Parkland shooting. Hundreds more, including the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are forced to come to school everyday now, just weeks after the shooting, with the fear that something like this will happen again. Partisan politics may have dominated the headlines for this issue, but everyone can agree on one thing; no student should have to be afraid of coming to school.
So Washington got to work. The past few weeks have been filled with long House and Senate sessions, new bills, extreme opposition to these new bills, and charged debate.
Recent session dockets have contained a dizzying number of bills proposed in partisan and bipartisan attempts to heal the community and prevent further school shootings.
Here are a few of the key proposals within Congressional bills:
- Allowing school teachers and administrative professionals to carry firearms and institute gun safety and emergency protocol training programs for these teachers
- This program would be 132 hours of training after a background check, psychological exam, and drug screening (because teachers clearly don’t have enough on their plate educating the next generation!!!)
- Both a school district superintendent and a county sheriff can prevent anyone from participating in the program for any reason
- Banning the sale of assault rifles to anyone under 21 and require a 3-day waiting period for purchases (the law currently has requirements for handguns only), exceptions would be made for military and law enforcement.
- Banning the sale of bump stocks, firearm accessories that allow semi automatic rifles to fire at near-automatic rates, possession would remain legal, age limit would not apply in private sales
- This failed in the senate with a 7-6 vote, as part of a sweeping Democratic bill on school safety, gun control, mental health, and gun access
- A risk protection order, under which law enforcement could petition a court to take someone’s firearm if they pose a threat(these firearms could be held for up to 12 months)
- Funding to help with medical costs of victims of mass shootings: the Braynon amendment (Senator Braynon introduced an amendment to a republican bill that would create an additional fund to the pre-existing state compensation fund that defrays medical costs for all crime victims)
- Funding for mental health programs in schools and states.
These are a few of the many and rapidly growing number of ideas proposed by our representatives (make sure to attend the discussion after the walk-out at Crystal if you’re interested in discussing). Each has drawn hours of testimony from dozens of speakers. Several Congress members, echoing their constituents, starkly opposed arming teachers due to safety reasons and a belief that teachers, as civilians, should not have to be responsible for the lives of their students and should not have the burden of carrying a rifle to work. Others opposed gun control proposals to restrict the sale of semi-automatic rifles in private and public sectors due to a fear of pushing gun sales into the black market and a love of their second amendment rights. And, of course, a commitment to the NRA and all of its generous sponsorship. As for President Trump? Families of victims and their communities were outraged when the President framed the tragedy as entirely the product of poor mental health and not gun control. “We are committed,” he told America, “To working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”
And what if none of these proposals come into law in the hands of an immensely polarized Congress? That’s where teenagers come in handy. Hundreds of thousands of American students have started a national movement to mourn and honor the victims of the Florida shooting, and to agitate for change with respect to gun control legislation. And who better to lead this movement than the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who refused to wait for Congress to make a change. After appearing on Good Morning, CNN, and various other television and news networks to recount their experiences, dozens of students who lost peers and friends and witnessed the shooting first hand encouraged students around the country to rally around them in support of gun reform so that no other school, student body, or community has to go through what they did. And they have been immensely successful in doing just that. The stories of the survivors and the media coverage of the shooting have spurred large scale and widespread student and community activism, from marches planned in cities and towns, to organized efforts to flood representative offices in opposition to gun rights, to social media messages and networks that are together fighting our country’s adherence to antiquated gun ownership laws.
The Crystal community is no exception. Student leaders Maya (’21) , Novak (’21), and Eliana (’18) decided to organize events within our school community and makes plans for attending local marches to ensure students have a place to express their outrage, share their opinions, and process the recent events with their peers. This week, we were lucky enough to speak with the three students leaders, hear why they were inspired to take action, and learn what they hope to instill in their classmates and in their society.
Senior Eliana voiced her passion for the issue by explaining that addressing gun access laws and restricting sales to ensure safety is both salient and urgent, in that gun access restrictions need to be implemented now and we need students to make sure that it does. “I was devastated when I heard about the Parkland shooting, but I wasn’t surprised, and that’s terrible,” she told us. “I’m tired of people shoving the issue of gun control under the rug and saying that now isn’t the time. School shootings and mass shootings in general are far too common in the United States. There is a simple solution: stricter gun laws.”
In addition to a dedication to advocating for gun reform, Novak was inspired by peers around the country, as walk outs and other community events for this particular purpose have been completely organized and led by students. He explained, “All the activism I’ve been involved in before has been driven by adults, and I think this particular movement is so important because it’s student-driven, because it’s the kids who are refusing to be quiet about the deaths that have been happening and this problem of gun control that affects the student population so strongly.”
All three of the students expressed a shared desire to hold debates surrounding gun control in the community and on the national stage and point out what they view as logical fallacies in efforts to block gun control. In the words of senior Eliana F., “It’s a common sense issue.” She further explained, “We are the only country with this severe of a mass shooting problem. Australia had one major shooting, passed gun control, and hasn’t had one since. It’s time for our voices to be heard because safety shouldn’t be a partisan issue.” Maya S. echoed her sentiment, contending, “America is the only place that has this problem. Every other developed country has restrictions on guns and they almost never have shootings.”
As a result of the initiative of these students and the growing awareness and desire for change within the community, there are a few events on the horizon to look out for. They are as follows:
March 14th at 10 am- 17 minute national school walkout to mark one month since the Parkland shooting
March 24th (Saturday)- March for our lives in San Francisco (Crystal vans to take students who want to march)
April 20th at 10am to the end of day-school walkout and marches in the city to mark anniversary of Columbine shooting(Crystal vans to bring students to the city where there will be events)
When asked what they hope students will get out of these experiences, the student leaders told us, “We hope that by attending marches and participating in the walkout, students at Crystal will feel like they have a voice. Maybe these events will spark lunchtime conversation about gun control. Maybe students will go home and look up which congress members take donations from the NRA and make sure their parents won’t vote for them. We hope that students shake the apathy and complacency that’s far too common on this issue. The ‘that’s just the way it is’ sentiment is so toxic. I hope this participation bleeds into other issues as well, letting crystal students know that they can organize walkouts and other forms of political participation. They can start the conversations. They can make a difference by following the example of the Parkland survivors.”
In addition to “shaking the complacency” out of our community, the leaders hoped that students would use the opportunity to involve themselves in activism. Novak explained,“Often it feels like activism is an “adult-only” sphere, where kids are sort of shut out. But really we are the future of activism, and the collective voice of the students is, in my opinion, a lot stronger and more impactful than anything else. That’s also sort of why I think it’s so important for students to get involved with activism, especially at Crystal where a fair amount of the student body has never necessarily had to involve themselves in activism. Gun safety, the right to go to school and be safe, is something every kid can relate to and can involve themselves in. I also think it’s our responsibility as fellow students to be there in support of the survivors of the Parkland shootings. It’s incredible to see the way those survivors are fighting back and speaking up, and we have the ability and, just by virtue of being fellow students, being kids of the same age, almost a responsibility to echo their fight across the nation and support their cause to end school shootings by implementing stronger and stricter gun control laws.”
And students have certainly shouldered this responsibility to “echo the fight.” While students harness diversified ideas in how to implement gun restrictions or to prevent another tragedy (i.e through mental health support, better surveillance), there is a common sentiment within the student movement: students shouldn’t have to fight so hard for their rights to feel safe. As articulated by Maya, “Kids should be worrying about their english papers or science tests, not active shooters.”
When explaining why this student activism is so important, Eliana told us, “We are going to have the right to vote soon. We are the next generation of political participants. We need to be informed and feel as though we can make a difference so we don’t throw away our votes.”
And we are just doing just that. The incredible determination and spirit of students across the country in response to the Florida shooting has truly revolutionized what it means to be a student activist in the twenty-first century. From the student survivors and now activist leaders, who remind us that this issue at its core is truly about the seventeen lives lost and the many more that are in danger, to the hundreds of thousands of students who make social media posts, give speeches, and plan rallies, it is indisputable that the tragedy of February 14th marks an awakening of anger and fear turned into solidarity, leadership, determination, and hope. If one thing’s for sure, students have taken the reigns in directing their future.