This week surrounding the one year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has had my heart and my thoughts in a complete mess. I can't even begin to imagine how this week, this horrific anniversary, feels for the students and families whose lives were torn apart in a matter of six minutes, some 365 days ago.
In case you've forgotten, as our country sometimes does with tragedies surrounding gun violence, 14 students and 3 teachers were killed in the halls of their own school. 17 families now have an irreparable hole where a cherished son, daughter, father, or mother used to reside. On Valentine's Day, of all days.
My heart breaks thinking about what those 17 universes, those 17 lives, would look like today if one human being hadn't been able to access a firearm so easily. It breaks for those left behind after that day. Those left to plan funerals. Those left to figure out how life goes on when you've experienced something so painful and so deeply rooted in hate.
The parents and friends of the 17 people killed have turned their grief and anger into voices screaming for change.
Demanding justice. Pleading with aching hearts, realizing that time does not heal all wounds, and asking lawmakers to listen and reform the way our country handles firearms.
Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg lost their 14-year-old daughter Jaime that day. They founded Orange Ribbons for Jaime, an organization that supports the programs and charities that their daughter loved. They use the platform that emerged as a result of Jaime's murder to bring awareness to gun violence and advocate for common sense gun control.
Manuel and Patricia Oliver's son Joaquin (Guac) was also one of the students killed during the shooting. They too began their own organization to honor their son, called Change the Ref, that focuses on empowering youth and future leaders to advocate for change, to give families and victims a disruptive voice in the fight for gun reform.
Students of MSD High School created the March for Our Lives initiative have run with it at full speed. They're making waves in every area of politics and activism, and the sheer bravery of these kids inspires me every single day.
Those are only a few examples of the change and action the survivors of the Parkland shooting have brought about in the midst of their grief. These families have banded together, all connected in a way they wish they weren't, and are dedicated to honoring their friends and family members by advocating for change.
Lori Alhadeff, the mother of 14-year-old Alyssa who was killed in Parkland, stood by the side of the governor of New Jersey as he signed "Alyssa's Law," which will require all New Jersey public schools to install silent panic alarms. Lori wrote a letter to her daughter in the wake of this anniversary. Pouring her grief into a letter she can never send, she writes,
"I wish I could take all the bullets for you."
I'm in no way qualified to speak on this issue on any level other than being moved by the story of this shooting and these families, as I'm sure most people are. But I am not a victim of gun violence. I have no expertise in the area of losing a piece of my family to violence. I don't know what that kind of grief, that kind of loss, feels like.
The only things I can offer are my admiration for these survivors and my "what if's." What if this had happened to me? I take that and I push forward, supporting these victims, and wanting no family, mine included, to ever have to experience the reality of losing a loved one, a child, in a shooting.
It's a mystery to me how some people can read the stories like those of Parkland, and not empathize. Not want to help. Not want to do what it takes to keep children in this country safe. While guns are not on my list of hobbies, they are for many people I know. I have family members, people I love, that are passionate about shooting and hunting. I have a little brother whose eyes light up when he gets to go out shooting or tells me the story of the time he shot his first deer. I love that he has a hobby he loves. I love that he does it safely. I love that he's been taught how to handle firearms properly.
Would I ask him to give up his love of shooting, his hobby? Never. But would I hope that he, and other gun owners and proponents, would be able to make that sacrifice if it meant that innocent lives might be saved? Yes. But the reality is, no one is asking anyone to give up firearms completely. No one's asking anyone to give up their hobbies. All that's being asked is better regulation. Laws that make it harder for guns to get into the hands of those who shouldn't have them.
Universal background checks. Extreme-risk protection orders. Eliminate restrictions on funding for gun violence research. Ending legal immunity for gun manufacturers. Renewing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Closing the gun show loophole. All of these are things can significantly reduce the risk of gun violence without violating anyone's second amendment right. In a world where sending children into school comes with the increased risk that they won't come home, every human being should be willing to make compromises to prevent that from happening.