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On Feb. 14 around 3:30 p.m., I was working from my home in El Portal when I received a text from my cousin in England. The text read, “Is the school near you in Miami? I just heard about it on the news.”
I replied anxiously, knowing instantly that she was referring to a shooting. “What school? I haven’t heard about it yet.” Immediately, I grabbed my computer to find out where the shooting occurred.
In those few seconds, the horror, panic and sense of dread I felt was unbearable. Was it Miami? Is it our school? I went online and searched “school shooting Miami” and quickly scoured the search results for a mention of a location or school name, and then I saw it. Parkland. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
What followed for me was an exchange of phone calls and text messages with family and friends and an overwhelming sense of urgency to find out more information. Were there any casualties? Was the shooter apprehended? And the weight of knowing that as videos were trickling in from students who were huddled under desks and school closets, the likelihood of fatalities was inevitable.
What I felt after discovering that it wasn’t our school wasn’t a sense of relief, but a harrowing realization that the coming days, weeks, and years were going to be filled with unimaginable grief for some parents and families, while the rest of us watched helplessly, grappling with the reality that it was our turn in South Florida to deal with the brutal reality of a mass school shooting.
If you are a parent in America, you cannot afford the luxury of heaving a sigh of relief for even one second because the violence didn’t unfold in your school, church or college. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now Marjory Stoneman Douglas are not a collective “other,” they are also our schools and as a community, we have to fight for them, because eventually it will be us.
How do we send our kids to school everyday knowing there is even a small chance that an armed intruder can enter school property? My 10-year-old twin daughters have already had lockdown drills in their classrooms to prepare for a potential attack. I kept my children at home for a week after the Sandy Hook Massacre but sending them to school a day after the Parkland shooting was harder. How do you look your kids in the eye, tell them seventeen people were shot and killed in a high school the day before and then send them off to school with a reassuring hug?
As parents, we are hardwired to protect our children and we are willing to go to great lengths to keep them from harm. This has become challenging in the face of rising gun violence, unregulated gun ownership, and an obscene form of greedy political corruption that utilizes NRA backed- rhetoric to justify a perverse and outdated adherence to the Second Amendment.
The breakdown of our political system has forced us to question why the responsibility of public safety has fallen solely on the shoulders of law abiding citizens. Why aren’t our elected officials stepping up to the task of doing everything in their power to help keep our children safe? Why aren’t our Republican lawmakers unable to engage in a logical dialogue about implementing common sense gun regulation without fear or reprisal from the NRA?
I for one haven’t been at ease since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, when 20 young children and 6 adults were gunned to death.That was a turning point for me as it highlighted just how severely fractured the American political system was. I know I speak on behalf of many parents when I say that we feel that guns are more valued in this society than our right to live in a safe community.
Post-Newtown, two important measures, a proposed Assault Weapons Ban and Universal Background Checks on firearm sales, were blocked by a majority of Republican Senators. Again, our elected officials willfully ignored the overwhelming public outcry to enforce background checks (in 2014, 92 percent of gun owners supported universal background checks), giving gun makers, pro-gun lobbyists and the NRA a free pass to push their own agenda.
The Sandy Hook Massacre spearheaded a national grassroots movement, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. I joined the organization weeks after it was formed by Shannon Watts. The organization now has chapters nationwide and their outreach and involvement in local, state and national level has been extensive. There are several ways to get involved in the fight to promote common sense gun regulation. Get involved in your state by joining a gun violence prevention organization, where you can volunteer for local events and participate in the effort to change policies at the state level. In addition to Moms Demand Action, I recommend Everytown and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.