As we quietly sat in a corner of the classroom, after creating a barricade in front of the doors as part of a safety drill during sixth period on March 7, it hit me how naturally everyone was acting. It was as if preparing for someone to barge in through the door, ready to commit mass murder, was something a high school student should be prepared for.
Last month, a painful tragedy was remembered: the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. Although it’s the most recent large-scale tragedy, the old adage “time heals all wounds” doesn’t seem to hold much value to the families who had their children ripped away from them.
This nation has had countless discussions on school safety after school shootings, including topics like gun regulation, armed teachers and more secure schools. But none of these conversations has led to nationwide legislation that aims to secure schools, save for a ban on bump stocks after the events in the Las Vegas shooting (something finally scheduled to go into effect this week). Although the issue is obviously bipartisan, more often than not our politicians look at the issue in a decidedly partisan manner.
Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., went onstage at a Parkland town hall meeting that was arranged by CNN. At this meeting, he empathized with the citizens of Parkland after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, an event that will not leave the memories of those who are forever affected. But even there, at the heart of a community devastated by an act that could only be described as evil, Rubio never wavered in his stance on gun legislation, specifically legislation restricting the purchase of the weapon used in the mass shooting: the AR-15. His reasoning was that the AR-15 was just a figurehead and said that “there would still be 2,000 guns that were legal that could do the exact same thing.”
During this town hall, Congressman Ted Deutch, D-Fla., opposed Rubio’s stance and claimed that weapons like the AR-15 are “weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can.”
This is the level of negotiation that exists in our country at the moment. A divide so great that the lives of children seem almost secondary to ensuring party goals are not undermined.
And to Deutch’s credit, he seemed genuinely willing to negotiate with Rubio, saying “Well, then sit with me and let’s come up with something you support.”
But talk is cheap, and that town hall and the words spoken there seemed to do little toward the formation of policy. Unless we want the policy of saving lives to be left to executive order, which is at the mercy of the next administration, we the constituents have to come up with actual legislation that everyone can agree on, something that could be implemented better than our current legislation. Security measures we have in place need to be done properly, and research on gun violence needs to be performed for us to make informed decisions on how to deal with the problem of mass shootings.
Currently, a person on the terrorist watch list can be stopped from boarding a plane that leaves the country, but can still legally purchase weapons. Although the FBI is notified of any such transactions, that agency has failed to investigate these in the past. When a suspicious shopkeeper refused to sell one such person large quantities of ammo and body armor, the shopkeeper called the FBI to drop a tip, but both the FBI and sheriff’s office claim they never received such a tip. The name of the man purchasing the ammo and body armor was Omar Mateen, the gunman in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.
Similarly, the Broward sheriff’s office in Florida claimed it had received 23 tips on Nikolas Cruz, the 17-year-old who would go on to commit the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year.
These aren’t isolated cases, either. Many school shooters have documented warning signs that are often reported but fall on deaf ears.
Researching the causes and solutions of gun violence should be explored. At one point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was responsible for researching gun violence, but because of a rider from 1996 known as the Dickey Amendment, the CDC is prohibited from using any of its government funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The author of the bill, Jay Dickey, said his express purpose for creating the bill was to prevent government advocation of gun control. But this has instead been interpreted as forbidding the CDC from researching gun violence at all. The 2018 omnibus spending bill did specify that the CDC has the express permission to research gun violence, but couldn’t use government funds to do so. This means the CDC would have to find outside funding, which has not been received.
If the Dickey Amendment was removed in its entirety, then research into the causes of gun violence and what can be done about it would begin. But repealing the amendment has lacked support in Congress, in part due to a lack of spotlight on the topic.
Government is slow to change. We can’t expect progress without urging it ourselves. The CDC won’t be granted permission to research gun violence unless constituents pressure their lawmakers to allow it. Similarly, the FBI and local agencies will grow complacent unless their procedures are constantly scrutinized, and not just after school shootings. This needs to be a yearlong effort. Too many times have we been horrified after a school shooting, only to forget about it when more partisan melodrama reaches the newspapers.
A reactive response to school shootings will only result in more dead children, more anger and arguments, and more broken families. Proactive policies and conversations are the only things that will solve this epidemic.
Ries Parnell is a junior at West Valley High School.