Submission: In the aftermath of Parkland

By Harrison Pyros | February 23, 2018 9:34am

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Harrison Pyros is a sophomore at UP. Photo courtesy of Harrison Pyros.

In the days following the events in Florida, the feeling is a horrible but familiar one. With 17 dead and even more wounded and traumatized, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is one of the deadliest school shootings in modern American history. 

To put this in perspective, the infamous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 26 people dead, including 20 six-year-olds, occurred in 2012. Since then, there have been 1,846 deaths from mass shootings, and perhaps that is why the news in Parkland is so numbingly familiar.

But it's difficult to envision these circumstances when they are just numbers. So I will give these numbers context. One shooter, Nikolas Cruz, and he used one gun: a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. This gun took him one day to get. And with this one gun, he fired over one hundred rounds into two hallways and five classrooms in thirty minutes.

While Cruz was still on the scene, live streams from students came pouring in by the hundreds. Across the nation, people listened to children hiding in desperation, surrounded by gunfire.

In the videos, students crouch beneath desks, behind chairs in darkened auditoriums and in closets. Their voices are pinched with urgency, fear and horror; the footage is shaky from trembling hands.

At one point, shots ring out in deafening booms from the hallway just outside the classroom, and screams envelope the video. The students cry out in panic and fear, trapped in their school that had suddenly become a battleground.

In the aftermath, we are left as we always are: shocked, terrified and angry. We watch the faces of the victims appear on the news and the families they left behind; we watch the candlelight vigils and the prematurely small coffins being lowered into the ground; and we watch the desperate demands for justice and change and the directionless question of how this happened. 

We are a nation so numb to these circumstances that our mourning is muscle memory. And the events in Florida make us ask the same questions and offer the same inadequate answers as Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and so many more.

As the details become more and more clear, the situation becomes more and more dystopian. In Florida, it takes a person three days to purchase a handgun, but in just under an hour, a person can walk out of a store with a military-inspired AR-15 assault rifle.

And with these facts in mind, it begs the question of how Nikolas Cruz, despite his high school expulsion for disciplinary reasons, despite his history of being committed to mental health clinics, could possibly obtain and keep a weapon that can and was used to commit mass murder? 

And like it always has, those facts and events boil down to a few basic principles: the right to own a semi-automatic weapon should not outweigh the right for a child to not be murdered in their own classroom. Because at the end of the day, a parent should not have to worry if their fourteen-year-old will be gunned down walking to second period in the school hallway.

And just like after Roseburg, Newtown and countless others, we are demanding change. We want to feel safe we want our children to feel safe. 

In a New York Times article, Lori Ahadeff, whose freshman daughter was killed in the shooting, spoke to a crowd, "Get these guns out of the hands of these young kids and get these guns off the streets." This is a cry for action, a cry to take away the weapon that took away her daughter. 

Because if any person thinks this tragedy could have been avoided if the faculty or staff had been armed, I remind them to think about Fort Hood: a 2009 shooting spree on a military base with highly trained personnel that left thirteen dead. And not five years later, at the same base, another shooting came again. If history has taught us anything, it's that more guns are not the answer.

In the time following Florida, Speaker Paul Ryan allegedly warned lawmakers to not jump to a "knee-jerk" reaction before "having all the facts and data." But the ever-rising body count is all the data we need. 

And what the last decade has shown us is that this reaction for gun policy change is not a knee-jerk reaction, but a redundant and aged one. We are not asking for the annihilation of the Second Amendment; we are asking for the bare minimum. 

The bare minimum in that not every unstable, impulsive person can walk into a store and purchase a weapon for an active war zone in under five minutes. We are asking to be able to send our kids to school, attend a concert or go see a movie without fearing a barrage of bullets.

I remember I was recently out to dinner with a friend when the topic of gun control came up. At the pinnacle of her argument, she pointed her fork at me like a dagger and said, "The moment that twenty first-graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook in cold blood and Congress changed nothing was the moment it became clear the government cares more about its guns than its children."

I sincerely hope her words are not true, but as shootings continue to tally up, I am becoming more and more pessimistic. As President Trump and other senators repeal barriers that make it more difficult to obtain dangerous firearms, I become more pessimistic. And as the NRA continues to shovel money into campaigns and new victims continue to appear on the news like a never-ending death reel, I become more pessimistic.

At an anti-gun rally in response to the shooting, Emma Gonzalez, a student who survived the Parkland attack shouted for justice and change. "Shame on you!" the crowd roars, their chants aimed at every person, lawmaker, and bureau that allowed the tragedy to happen. 

In the sea of people surrounding and supporting Gonzalez, signs read: HOW MANY MORE? And I'm left to wonder, along with the rest of the nation, how many more? How many more parents will have to bury their children? How many more families will have to suffer? How many more teachers will need to use their own bodies as shields to protect their students?

How many more tragedies will this nation need to endure before change happens?

The data from mass shootings deaths comes from the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/) and in an article found here: (https://www.vox.com/a/mass-shootings-sandy-hook)

Harrison Pyros is a sophomore business major and sophomore senator for ASUP. He can be reached at pyros20@up.edu

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