One Year Since Parkland: What Has Changed?

 

On April 20, 1999, 15  people were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado. On December 14, 2012, 28 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On February 14, 2018, 17 people were shot and killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The names of these schools have haunted our lives, echoed through our schools as books have clattered to floors in our hallways and stopped our beating hearts as we wonder if we will be next.

As Stoneman Douglas High School student and advocate for gun control, David Hogg, says, “we say no more.”

Students like Hogg, who is one of the 187,000 students to have experienced a school shooting in the US, have ignited the March for our Lives movement, where they have used their raw emotion and personal horrors to fuel lawmakers throughout the country to make changes.

According to The Sun Sentinel, 2018 has been a year for change in terms of gun control laws, with triple the number of laws enacted than in 2017. 19 businesses have cut their ties with the NRA, six local governments in Florida have taken action to change gun laws, and ten companies have ended ties with other companies that produce guns, as well as have stopped their promotion of guns.

16 states have tightened their gun laws or improved their school safety, which doesn’t include Colorado, who still fails to provide universal background checks to buyers, even after the horrifying 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado where 12 people were shot and killed in a movie theater by a man with a history of very threatening mental illnesses who purchased his guns legally. The most recent example of the failed nature of background checks was on February 15, where a man shot and killed five people at Henry Pratt Company plant in Aurora, Illinois with a gun he was not legally allowed to own due to a history of domestic violence.

Background checks are a highly controversial issue that have been advocated for for many years, even before the uprisings of mass shootings in the most recent decade. However, there’s one powerhouse stopping it from becoming a nationwide law: the NRA, who are fighting to oppose background checks because “they don’t really work” and are a “trap for unwary gun owners”.

This is partially correct, where background checks have failed to prevent dangerous people from accessing guns, but that’s only because of the seemingly loose nature of the policy. The many flaws of background checks include the dismissal of the buyer’s social media presence, which can be a primary source of suspicion, especially in modern times where social media dictates most of the news read by high school students. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School, blatantly stated online that he was “going to be a professional school shooter,” though this failed to be reported when he bought a gun due to the vagueness of background checks.

Background checks aren’t the only factor that needs to be tightened in order to prevent mass shootings from striking the country as frequently as they have; the issue also lies within our schools and our present and former classmates.

“The word ‘just’ is tricky. Sometimes kids just have bad days. But sometimes they’re tipping over or they feel like there’s nothing else, so they’re a bit suicidal or homicidal,” said the Safety and Security Director of the Durango 9R School District, Kathy Morris.

When it comes to a school’s safety against imagined threats, Morris claims the problem lies between heavy profiling of students and a general lack of knowledge about the mental issues of these suspected teens.

This identification of a future “killer”, using programs such as threat assessment screenings, lies within the hands of not only school counselors, but also in the hands of students, who need to take more initiative to report suspicious incidents, using sources such as Safe2Tell, as Morris highly encourages.

However, this applies even more pressure to already overwhelmed high school students, where according to Everytown for Gun Safety, 75% of them find the threat of a school shooting their primary source of stress, and rightfully so, as two hundred and eighty-eight school shootings have occurred in the US since 2009, which is about one school shooting every eight school days.

Fear is the propelling factor that decides the safety decisions implemented into schools, such as the I Love You Guys foundation, created by Ellen and John-Michael Keys after their daughter Emily was killed in a school shooting, which gives quick and simple explanations to students and teachers during an emergency.

Despite the implementation of these posters throughout schools and the prominence of school shootings across the country, students still have a seemingly careless and relaxed response to apparent lock-down drills, regardless of the fact that the word “drill” is not always the case. The truth is that no one can genuinely act with sincerity during a drill unless they’ve experienced the horror themselves, as this very realistic and common threat is still so hard to comprehend to those who haven’t personally been through it, and using fear to propel this response in preparation for the real threat is questionable.

“Anytime you shift a culture, you’re going to have pushback. How do you shift that culture without using fear?” said Morris, highlighting the idea of a fear factor that is now so prominent in our society today, and how that changes the idea of a school for most students into a place of worry for their own lives.

In order to provide safer schools for the children of America, the answer lies in balancing many aspects of American life; the balance of those who love their guns and those who despise them; the balance of those who use fear to implement change or simply disregard the issue to instill a sense of peace; the balance of hyper-stereotyping students or maintaining a sense of carelessness towards a student’s mental health.

Kathy Morris uses this idea of balance when thinking about the future of schools in the Durango 9R School District. She hopes to provide a more secure campus by defending the front entrance with a system of “buzzing in”, adding door sensors to the West Wing, providing more direct training to all students and teachers, arming trained security guards, and possibly even closing off-campus lunch to freshman.

This sense of premature action is what we need now more than ever in American schools, as the powerhouse that is the NRA is seemingly impossible and highly unrealistic to relent against, and those who support the outdated Second Amendment have their rights as American citizens to be protected under these laws. However, this does not mean that students should feel unsafe in their own schools, a place designated for growth and opportunity, as the threat of being killed grows more and more likely the longer we refuse to take action against the rise of illegally purchased and unnecessary guns, such as shotguns or machine guns, in the US.

Although this spark of fury only seems to ignite after more and more students are shot and killed in their own schools, it is essential to keep the spark alive and raging in order to produce a true and long-lasting change in our country. We can’t preemptively wait for these horrific events to strike our country until we make changes; we have to act quickly and diligently in order to prevent any more of our children, mothers, fathers, friends, and futures from being lost by a single shot.