On February 14, 2018, Valentine’s Day, 17 students and teachers, children and parents, friends and neighbors, were killed at Parkland, Florida, adding to the series of mass shootings that plagues our nation. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School weren’t the first to experience the devastating effects of gun violence in the United States, and they likely won’t be the last.

Since 1966, there have been more than 150 mass shootings in America where four or more people have died. The deaths are numerous and the victims range from a 98-year-old who died during a mass shooting in 2009 to an eight-month-old baby who died in San Ysidro, California, in 1984.

In 1999, one of the most well-known and deadliest school shootings at the time, Columbine, claimed 15 victims and injured 24 others. The shooting was heavily covered by the press and sparked many debates over reducing gun violence, yet virtually nothing was done.

Government inaction has led to several other deadly mass shootings since then. The Orlando nightclub shooting killed 50 victims. Sixteen people died during the San Bernardino attack. In 2017, 59 people died in the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass murder in American history, and 27 people died in the Sutherland Springs church shooting. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in 2012, there have been more than 1,600 mass shootings that claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people and wounding more than 6,400.

More Than Just a Number

But these victims in the Parkland shooting are more than just another statistic to add to the list. These victims, and every other victim of every other mass shooting America has gone through, are more than just a body count. Each one of them had families, friends, hopes, and dreams, and all of them ended with a bullet in a terrible tragedy.

Let’s remember the 17 people who lost their lives that day because, although nothing can be done to change the fact that they are dead, we can keep them alive in our memories and let their tragedy fuel the fire that will prevent more deaths in the future.

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, a soccer player for Parkland Travel Soccer. Her mother called her the most “beautiful, smart, talented, successful, awesome, amazing” daughter she could ever ask for.

Scott Beigel, 35, a geography teacher who was killed while ushering students into his classroom for safety when the shooting first broke out. Kelsey, one of the students saved by this teacher, called him “my hero and he still will forever be my hero… I am alive today because of him.”

Martin Duque Anguiano, 14. His older brother, Miguel Duque, said, “He was sweet and caring and loved by all his family. Most of all he was my baby brother.”

Nicholas Dworet, 17, a senior recruited to the University of Indianapolis’ swim team would have been an incoming freshman this fall.

Aaron Feis, 37, an assistant football coach was killed after throwing himself in front of students to protect them from oncoming bullets.

Jaime Guttenberg, 14. Her father, Fred, said, “My heart is broken. Yesterday, Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school.” He later added, “Hugs to all, and hold your children tight.”

Chris Hixon, 49. The school’s athletic director, he was described as an awesome husband, father, and American. “He loved being an American and serving his country, and he instilled that in our kids,” Debra Hixon, his wife, said.

Luke Hoyer, 15. Cousin Grant Cox called Luke “an amazing individual. Always happy, always smiling. His smile was contagious, and so was his laugh.”

Cara Loughran, 14. She danced at the Drake School of Irish Dance. In a statement from the dance studio, they said that she “was a beautiful soul and always had a smile on her face.”

Gina Montalto, 14. A member of the winter guard on the school’s marching band, the Winter Guard International mourned her death the following day.

Joaquin Oliver, 17. Born in Venezuela, he moved to the United States when he was 3 and became a naturalized citizen last year. “His interests: football, basketball, the Venezuelan national soccer team, urban graffiti, and hip-hop,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.

Alaina Petty, 14. She was a vibrant and determined individual who had helped volunteer after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September and loved to serve others any way she could. 

Meadow Pollack, 18. She had been accepted at Lynn University in Boca Raton. A spokeswoman from the university called her “a lovely young woman, who was full of energy. We were very much looking forward to having her join our community in the fall.”

Helena Ramsay, 17. “A smart, kind hearted, and thoughtful person, she was deeply loved and loved others even more so,” according to Curtis Page Jr.

Alex Schachter, 14. He was heavily involved in the school marching band and orchestra. His family is setting up a scholarship fund to help others experience the joy of music that he had and fund increased security at schools.

Carmen Schentrup, 16. A National Merit Scholar semifinalist, Carmen was mourned in the community and on social media.

Peter Wang, 15. A member of the junior ROTC program, he was shot holding a door open to help fellow classmates get to safety.

Local Action

In the wake of this mass shooting, Jefferson Township and many other communities looked at themselves and asked what more can be done on a local level to ensure the safety and protection of its students.

I heard many residents speak out about how laws and regulations won’t stop someone determined enough to shoot up a school from doing just that. These people believe that “more laws, regulations, and taking of your liberty and rights will not stop criminals.” While it may be true that if they are determined enough, they will try to find a way to get a gun, I’d rather limit that access and make it harder for them to acquire a gun than have the ease of acquiring one in our current system.

Putting aside this argument for now, some Jefferson Township residents believe that, instead of regulating and limiting the access of guns, we should be looking at how we treat the mentally ill. While I do agree that the mental health support system in America has its problems, fixing this alone will not end these mass shootings.

Politicians and these residents alike point their fingers at the mentally ill and blame them as the cause of the United States’ unique epidemic of gun violence, but this is just not the case. In a 2015 analysis done by Michael Stone, a psychiatrist at Columbia University who maintains a database of mass shooters, only 52 out of the 235 killers in the database had a mental illness. While this may appear to be a significant problem, and it very well may be a part of the problem, this means only 22 percent of mass shooters have a mental illness. In fact, according to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators.

Although I do agree that it may be part of the issue and that the mental health system in America is extremely flawed (another column for another day), the issue of mental health isn’t inherently a gun violence issue. Even if mental illnesses were suddenly cured, this alone wouldn’t eliminate the threat of a mass shooting occurring in Jefferson or anywhere else. According to a sociologist and psychiatric epidemiologist from Duke University, if schizophrenia, bipolar, and depression were cured overnight, violent crime in the US would fall by only 4 percent.

We can look for signs, parents can patrol their children’s social media accounts, students can be more inclusive of the loners left out at lunch, and we can get help for those who display signs of a mental illness all we want, but this shouldn’t be the sole safety net between our community and a mass shooting. In addition to the fact that only 22 percent of mass shooters had a mental illness, we won’t catch every mentally ill child who may grow up to become a mass shooter. Relying on the community to just look out for signs and to say something if they see something isn’t a policy plan that will lead to concrete change in gun violence.

Other parents argue that protecting our children from gun violence should start in the home. In addition to a conversation about gun violence and telling them to be hyper aware of any potential threats, some residents argue that the parents should monitor their children and keep a close eye out for signs. Besides all the reasons I mentioned before in how this is a flawed security blanket in safeguarding our students from a mass shooting, we shouldn’t rely on parents to be the people looking out for the safety and security of the rest of our students because not all parents are responsible. There are alcoholic parents, neglectful parents, and foster parents, and others who may all dodge this security measure.

Stronger School Security

Some residents support increasing school security measures. In the two weeks since the shooting, I have heard calls for metal detectors, more police in schools, and trained and armed security guards and teachers.

Although this may appear to decrease the vulnerability of our schools, these measures that will turn our schools from education centers to fortresses are both impractical and ultimately futile.

Installing metal detectors would be a significant cost to the district, reducing its available funds for improving educational resources. The installation of metal detectors would also disrupt the school day because it would take a large amount of time to check in each student who enters the building. Even though it may appear to limit our vulnerability, as a post once said, “If someone is determined to commit these violent acts, they will,” and if they already have a gun because of its easy access, then it wouldn’t be too hard to enter the building from a number of different doors or when the students are getting on and off the bus.

Police and trained and armed security guards and teachers may be impractical as well. Not only would it divert funds for the district from educational resources to security measures, but these security measures might not do the job in protecting the students. In the event of an actual mass shooter, more guns would only add to the confusion and chaos and likely lead to more deaths as a result of the chaotic crossfires in trying to shoot down the shooter, or thinking someone is the shooter because he has a gun when it is actually just one of the armed security guards or teachers. To make matters worse, studies, such as the one conducted by Stanford law professor John Donohue, show that “right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder.” More guns can equal more gun violence, not less.   

Even if we paid the costs for metal detectors and more armed security in schools, and even if this was 100 percent effective, what is to protect us from mass shooters elsewhere in the community? What is to stop them from killing children at recess when they’re outside? What is to stop them from killing innocent people at a mall, a concert, or in the grocery store? You can’t put these same security measures in a park, at the movie theater, or at a student’s bus stop. Even if we threw all our money into security rather than education, the threat doesn’t end at the many other vulnerable places in our community.

National Epidemic with National Solutions

The community itself can only do so much to fight to solve the complex and nationwide problem of mass shootings and gun violence. Jefferson Township schools already have many security measures in place with daily safety checks, resource officers, security guards, a buzz-in system for visitors, monthly emergency drills including an active shooter drill that is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce fatalities in the case of an active shooter, and so on. Can more be done? Probably, but practically?

The district does as much as it can to ensure the security of its students, but any further impactful solutions to this complex problem won’t be found at the local level. The more meaningful solutions will be found at the state and federal level. Although the Jefferson Township community can’t do much more to internally solve the issue of gun violence in America, it can raise its voice to stand for the state and nationwide actions that we have all been waiting for.

A Point of Agreement

Although we may individually disagree on how to stop the terrible tragedies like the one in Parkland, Florida, we do agree on this: We don’t want this to happen in our or any other community, and we want something to be done about it.

Regardless of your stance, we are all sick and tired of the vicious cycle of government inaction, and we want to see real change before another mass shooting happens once again. In order to break this cycle of tragedy and inaction, we must all advocate for what we believe is the solution. So register to vote, learn about the candidates in the upcoming election, and vote for those who support your beliefs. Call or send a message to your local congressman and the other politicians who are supposed to represent you, and join marches and organizations that support your solutions.   

There are plenty of solutions to address the issue of gun violence in our country, and no one solution alone will solve the problem. We need to find common ground in our views and support legislation that works toward fixing a variety of the problems that lead to gun violence. We all need to stand up and advocate for real changes to be made.

The ultimate goal is to save lives, and we need to support research into finding the right solutions to reduce gun violence and raise our voices to Congress to let it be known that we are all concerned, and that we want to see real, impactful solutions to putting an end to gun violence.

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