Here’s the one impression I had about Parkland, Florida before the rampage that left seventeen dead – fifteen children and two adults who tried to protect them: it’s some sort of idyllic utopia in which to raise your children. I formed that impression from eavesdropping on two other moms during a Little League game. Yes, I know that eavesdropping is wrong, but as a writer, sometimes I can’t help it. Plus, we were all in close proximity on the bleachers – if they didn’t want anyone else to hear their conversation, they wouldn’t be having it.
One of the moms said that she and her family were moving to Parkland soon. The other mom said that she would be moving there, as well. They talked about the other families from our town who had moved there already. They both agreed that it was similar to our Long Island hamlet, except with lower taxes, abundant sunshine and a more laid back and affordable lifestyle. One of the moms said that it was a welcoming community with many Long Island ex-pats. Or at least that’s what I remember of the conversation. (Our town does indeed have connections with the community, according to an email from the superintendent of our school district. Our thousands strong local Facebook moms group even sent a banner of support to Parkland, to hang in the school when students return, and collected donations to help survivors.)
I’m sure I was envious as I listened to those two moms chat about their future sunshine-filled, warm and welcoming new home. A punishing winter had just wound down, and the spring was still quite chilly. I was wrapped in layers and a fleece blanket, and I remember thinking, “Hmm…maybe we should look into moving there.”
Of course, we never did. I’m probably just as likely to pick up and move to Florida, as I am to move to Bali, even though my husband travels to Florida often for business and could easily transfer. It’s just an amazing fantasy, especially in the cold, dark days of winter…but it won’t happen (especially now that my son is in college in Massachusetts). Still, as soon as I heard about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I immediately felt a connection, having mused about moving there and knowing that families from our town live there now. I’ve always felt that town (along with the surrounding area) is really like Long Island south.
Of course, being a mother to nineteen, seventeen and thirteen year old children automatically gives me a connection too. Watching the grieving parents on the news was gut-wrenching and left me in tears I couldn’t quite stem. And it left me angry, furious really. Why does this have to keep happening? Why do politicians place the National Rifle Association over our children’s lives? Why do I have to be scared sending my kids to school, not knowing if some monster with easy access to weapons of war will stride in guns blazing?
Two days after the Parkland shooting, the police came to my son’s high school – a student astutely reported an Instagram post by a classmate that featured the girl holding guns, along with a racist threat about using them. I didn’t see the post, but we were kept in the loop immediately by both the principal and the superintendent. It was a relief to know that the school was on top of it, and that a student was smart enough to report it. That’s all the information that was shared. (This is public knowledge and was reported in local newspapers, so I feel that I can share it, as well.)
I heard that the Instagram post was up for a while, and it wasn’t until the school shooting stoked fears that it was reported. My question: why didn’t Instagram report it to local law enforcement or to the FBI? Why isn’t there a safeguard in place that threatening posts, especially featuring guns, are flagged by Instagram internally and immediately referred to law enforcement? Nikolas Cruz posted violent, disturbing images on Instagram, featuring weapons and animals he killed. That should immediately have been flagged by Instagram and not left up to users to report.
Thankfully, someone was alarmed enough to anonymously report the disturbing, violent posts by the student at my son’s school, but if there hadn’t been a tragic school shooting, would it have gone under the radar? It did for some time before. No one knows the girl’s true intentions – if it was for shock value, or if she would have shown up at the school and brandished the guns in her post, and carried out her racist, evil agenda. There has to be some sort of filter on social media – not just Instagram, but all social media – to catch these threats, before they turn into tragedies.
Perhaps more importantly, there has to be a ban on both AR-15 semi-automatic weapons and gun sales to people under twenty-one years old. Nikolas Cruz could not legally buy a beer, but he could legally buy a weapon of war that allowed him to inflict the most possible carnage in the least amount of time, short of a banned automatic weapon. He was known to have received treatment for mental illness, and yet he could legally buy an AR-15, because he self-reported to the gun store owner that he was not mentally ill. What mentally ill person wanting to buy a gun would admit to having a mental illness? Why is self-reporting even allowed? By the way, I have two children who battle mental illness, and I HATE the stigma that the mentally ill are all capable of committing mass murders… It’s NOT true. BUT, I still believe that those with mental illness should not be allowed to buy guns. I also believe that Trump rolling back a still to be enacted Obama-era rule that made it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns leaves blood on his hands for any future shootings, whether or not it would have stopped this one.) Additionally (and unfathomably), Nikolas Cruz was known to have been expelled from school for violence, and yet he could legally buy an AR-15. There were forty-five calls made from his home to law enforcement about him and/or his brother. He pushed his mother into a wall when she took away his XBox. And yet, he was able to legally buy an AR-15. He was reported to the FBI more than once, and still he could legally buy an AR-15. What is wrong with all of this? Everything. It’s no coincidence that this is the longest paragraph in this essay – the one listing all the reasons that Nikolas Cruz should not have been able to legally buy an AR-15.
There has to be change. The survivors of the Parkland shooting are the catalysts, and they are doing an amazing job of trying to hold the adults who have failed them accountable. But, as was evidenced by the heartless – and heartbreaking – way the Florida legislators blocked even discussing and bringing to a vote a ban on the AR-15, with Parkland students in attendance, no less; it will take a tremendous and concentrated effort to pry politics loose from the death grip of the NRA. I believe in them – their awe-inspiring behavior and resilience in the aftermath of such a senseless tragedy speaks volumes about the type of town Parkland is and reinforces my first impression of it as an amazing place to raise children.
As an aside…the day that the Parkland students bravely descended on Tallahassee, demanding change, the Republican majority did pass a bill. It was one declaring porn a public health risk, because, you know, porn kills as many people as assault rifles. I’m guessing the porn industry doesn’t pay off politicians to do their bidding.
To be clear, I don’t have a problem with a responsible gun owner owning a revolver or a pistol (with the emphasis on responsible). I shot a small handgun once. My college boyfriend had a legally owned gun, and he took me to field one sunny day to shoot cans off a fence – it was actually fun. The next guy I dated also legally owned a gun, but I found that more troubling, since he had possessive tendencies and a jealous streak, even as he professed his love for me. I broke it off after just a few months.
Now, if he had an AR-15, I wouldn’t have dated him at all. Because there is literally NO NEED to own an AR-15, unless of course you want to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School know this. They’ve lived this, and it will stay in them forever, a small broken place, no matter how much they heal. That’s what trauma does; it leaves a little (or big) scar that never goes away. But…it’s what that scar inspires you to do that really matters.
And these students, and others in their generation, are doing something amazing. They will be the ones to effect real change in the ongoing battle to wrest our country away from the NRA and enact common sense gun control laws that will save lives. They will be the ones who will lead us into a time where we can say, “Never again,” and mean it. And if the adults in charge keep ignoring them and keep letting them down…these students will be voting, if not in the next election, then in the ones after that. By 2022, most of this generation so determined to be the change we need will be voting. And they’re coming for every single politician whose pockets are stuffed with blood money.
If you wish to donate to donate to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Victims Fund, click here.