On Feb. 14, the United States had its 14th school shooting of 2018. The suspected gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, attempted to fire at fleeing students from the third-floor windows of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The incident resulted in the death of 17 people and hospitalization of 14 more. The shooting left the nation in shock, and full of questions for the future.
President Donald Trump responded by offering his condolences to the victims’ families, writing, “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” In a televised address, he mentioned school safety in relation to mental health issues, offering a policy response to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” Two days after the shooting, Trump and his wife Melania paid a one-hour visit to the victims’ hospital, congratulating physicians and posing with staff for photos.
Several student survivors criticized the response from politicians, asking them to take action instead of offering condolences to prevent more children from being killed. Survivor Emma González, noted for her speech in rebuking thoughts and prayers from the government, has demanded stricter gun control measures. Emma has since emerged as one of the leaders of a student protest movement against gun violence.
The recent events also sparked discussions within the Deerfield community.
“It is really shocking to witness these happenings,” said Natasha Leong ’21. “If students like us have to worry about our own safety when going to school, it really makes me wonder what the government is doing.”
With a similar concern, Bisi Akilo’ 21 said, “I feel that the NRA and how they are saying the Second Amendment protects us is fine, but they have to take into account that those laws are antiquated.”
Students from across the nation share these ideas. Groups like Never Again were established during the aftermath, which began on social media using the hashtag #NeverAgain. The group has demanded legislative action to prevent similar shootings and has condemned lawmakers who received political contributions from the National Rifle Association. On Feb. 17 in Fort Lauderdale, the group held a rally attended by hundreds of supporters.
Student leaders Hunter Keller’ 20 and Abigail Lupi ‘18 are currently leading the school-wide walkout that is taking place on Deerfield’s campus on Apr. 20.
“The first step is dialogue,” Lupi said. She added, “I’ve heard very little from the Deerfield community on the subject of gun control, which is especially saddening seeing as so many positive strides have been made within the past few months. [We] should be actively engaging in these conversations and making moves toward productive change.”
Lupi described the empowering effect of student involvement that she witnessed at a March for Our Lives event in New York.
She described, “Students have every power and every right to contribute to the kind of country we hope to live in…Walking with the massive crowds [at the March for Our Lives] down 6th Ave invigorated everyone with an overwhelming sense of purpose knowing we’re united in working towards a better tomorrow.”
Keller ’20, another main coordinator of the walkout, agreed: “Young people continue to be shut down in their actions; they are told that they cannot provoke change we can truly make, but arising is a movement of high school teenagers and elementary children who have shown the world that there is no age or education requirement that must be achieved in order to impact a community.”
The Deerfield community comprises diverse people, and Keller acknowledged that there are inevitably a variety of political opinions. However, according to Keller, that should not stop students from having conversations about gun reforms and from learning how to express opinions with people who have contrasting beliefs.
“It is inspiring to see students like us take action,” Angela Cui ’21 said, after hearing about student initiatives on gun control and student safety campaigns. “It is nice to know that there are people out there fighting for a change that is greatly needed in America.”