Parkland's Legacy

By: Neil Mufson
Mr. Mufson advocates for the rights of all students to be safe within the walls of their schools and classrooms.
After every mass shooting in our country, I always search for the individual biographies and photos of those lost. For me, it ensures that I don’t become deadened to what is actually happening; deadened to the human loss, suffering, and grief that lives on; deadened to the frequency of these massacres; deadened to the consistent outrage and sadness but total inaction that has always followed. Maybe this time will be different, I always hope.
Given how young most of the Parkland victims were, I was particularly struck by the purity, power, and beauty of the goals of those lives and dreams stolen. Fourteen year-old Jaime Gutenberg was dedicated to dance and providing love and care for her special needs younger cousin. Seventeen year-old Nicholas Dworet hoped to swim competitively in college. Alaina Petty, 14, loved to serve others, like she did cleaning up communities after the recent hurricanes. Meadow Pollack, 18, was known as a tenacious goal setter who could always discern a path to her objectives. Alex Schachter, 14, was “a sweetheart of a kid who just wanted to do well and make his parents happy.” Peter Wang, 15, “was the kid in the school who would be friends with anyone, who didn’t care about popularity.” This time the list stretches on to another 12 precious individuals, including coaches, teachers, and staff members. 
What is wrong with our society that we accept these losses? How do we allow ourselves to be polarized by politics and a lack of facts when children’s lives and their basic sense of safety and security are on the line?  
The surviving student voices that have risen since the massacre have been incredibly eloquent, powerful, impassioned, and direct. They are asking adults to act like adults and take steps to protect them. Megan Smith, a surviving senior, said, “I still go to high school. I am still a child. I still live with my parents. It’s not my job. It’s y’all’s job, my community’s job to protect us, but no one is safe, not adults either.” Christine Yared, a 15 year-old freshman wrote, “We want to make sure we are not remembered as the school where there was a shooting but as the school that had a shooting and did something to stop it from happening to anyone else.” 
When so much is at stake, we should be able to find a way to balance reasonable gun rights with sensible controls, particularly over weapons like assault rifles. If our citizenry is not sophisticated or patient enough to understand the pernicious effect some powerful lobbyists can ultimately have on the fabric of our culture, we need to find a way to inject common sense, to say nothing of responsibility, decency, and action, into our legislative process and our educational system. On a much more granular level, how is it that we cannot even figure out a way for a troubled, ill, and violent 19-year old orphan — actually a child himself — to get the help or intervention that many had said he clearly needed? But we shouldn’t allow all this complexity and seeming impossibility to excuse inaction.  
As an advocate for children above all else, I believe we have to face one other very controversial fact: many reputable studies like the summary of research findings linked here demonstrate that when all other factors are controlled — lack of proper mental health care,  racial divisions, disparate socioeconomic levels, a cultural propensity towards violence, etc.— it is the astronomicalnumber of guns — not the reasonable presence of guns — that “can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America.” We account for 4.4% of the world’s population but 42% of the world’s guns. No other country comes close. Yemen has the second highest rate of gun ownership after the United States and a similar level of gun violence, but few of us aspire to be more like Yemen. The uncomfortable fact is that “a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting.” That doesn’t mean guns have to be outlawed or eliminated, even if they could be. It doesn’t mean we have to abandon the Second Amendment. It does mean that there is something to learn from every other wealthy nation in the world, because on this dimension they do a far better job of finding solutions to these complex issues than we do. I believe we as a society have to become open to such solutions. Too much is at stake: our children. Mass shootings, people from Sandy Hook to Lakeland have learned, can happen anywhere. 
In the meantime, we are left to explain these horrors to our children. We are left to balance at school reasonable security vs. a desire for the open, humane, demilitarized atmosphere that our children deserve. We at The Country School have detailed and copious policies and procedures for the unthinkable, and we review and practice these procedures regularly. We all know, though, that these only go so far. A horrifying amount of damage can be done in seconds.  
As we process how our society can move ahead, it is worth remembering 15 year-old Christine Yared’s words: “No matter our political beliefs, we need to come together. Children are dying. Don’t let my classmates’ deaths be in vain.”  
I direct you to the following resources — yet another time — that are helpful in the wake of our epidemic of unthinkable violence:
Talking to Children About Tragedies (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Helping Kids After a Shooting (American School Counselor Association)
Explaining the News to Our Kids (Common Sense Media)
Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers(National Association of School Psychologists)
Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting  (American Psychological Association)

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