Opinion

Parkland massacre riveted us in anguish, yet we still don’t act

Sweet Notes send message of love, hope and courage to students in Parkland, Fla.

Missy Pint of Lenexa and her Sweet Note project had Kansas City area kids write 3,550 inspiring notes of love, hope, and encouragement to the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
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Missy Pint of Lenexa and her Sweet Note project had Kansas City area kids write 3,550 inspiring notes of love, hope, and encouragement to the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

A year ago this week, 14 students and three educators were massacred in the hallways of Marjory

Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland by an armed former student who came on a rampage of revenge. In the wake of his evil act was the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012.

The tragedy rocked the upscale community of Parkland, South Florida and the nation and sparked a movement lead by the surviving students who turned their shock and grief into outrage and action that launched an national political movement — anti-gun and pro get-out-the-youth vote.

You would think things would have vastly changed for the better. That the number of young people killed by gun violence would have dropped. That Americans, young and old, would have put lay down their weapons.

Not at all.

In an unprecedented collaboration, the Miami Herald and other McClatchy newspapers across the country and The Trace, a nonprofit online news organization that covers firearms issues, tabulated just how many more children and teens fell after Parkland. The outlets, with the help of student reporters, diligently tracked gun deaths among youths 18 and under in the year since that horrific day in Parkland.

This week, online and in Sunday newspapers including the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Bee and the News & Observer of North Carolina, all are publishing their findings in unison, a rare media practice. But the message is just too important. Sadly, when it comes to preventing youth gun deaths, the needle has barely moved.

What the media outlets found was troubling — and, sadly, the same old thing: After a mass shooting tragedy like Parkland, there’s a lot of hoopla for gun control, for background checks, for mental health screening, for public awareness. In this case, the Parkland students’ zeal did not waver, but as they fought for change more and more teens died because of guns.

The findings are enough to turn your stomach — or make you wanna holler.

Unlike any other school shooting victims before them, the Parkland survivors had emerged from the tragedy on fire, pushing to end gun violence in America. Using the power of social media, charismatic student leaders, along with their parents, demanded new gun-control measures. And, at least in Florida, they had some success, cowing state legislators into imposing some common-sense onto Florida’s gun laws.

Parkland students registered young voters in cities across the country and organized a massive rally called the March For Our Lives. Their battle cry was #NeverAgain

But a year after the Parkland shooting, U.S. gun-related deaths of children and teens continues, as the Miami Herald/McClatchy Trace investigation shows. To bring home the enormity of the 1,100 young deaths in 365 days, the report says: “That’s a Parkland every five days, enough victims to fill three ultra-wide Boeing 777s.”

The project details how young people died. “When they weren’t taking cover from school shooters, young Americans died as a result of murder-suicides, jealous rages, indiscriminate drive-bys targeted attacks and horrific preventable accidents. … “Several died in explosive video game disputes. One young man was killed when, according to a witness, a loose gun inside a box he was hauling discharged. A 10-year-old girl was gunned down while scampering toward an ice cream truck. A father shot his 6-year-old girl by accident while cleaning his gun.”

The exhaustive project found that older teens were more commonly victims, followed by small children, ages 2 and 3. Obviously, city streets were deadlier than rural areas — and the leafy suburban streets of Parkland. Although the data collected didn’t include race and ethnicity, it is clear that most victims were minorities and lived in troubled inner city neighborhoods.

The collateral emotional damage will scar the families who loved these victims for life.

There’s how some kids died across the country since Parkland:

  • Antonio Jones, 18, was shot and killed in his sister’s car in Kansas City, Missouri, a month after he graduated from high school, the killer’s motives unknown.
  • Calvin Harvey, a junior at Northeast High in Macon, Georgia, was cut down by a motorist who rolled past a summer cookout and let loose a spray of bullets.
  • Tyran Carter died when multiple shots tore into the 17-year-old while in a friend’s backyard in Wichita, Kansas.
  • Jace Alexander, a toddler of 2 in Fresno, California, was killed while playing with a SigSauer pistol left on a bed.
  • Zack Kempke, 14, was struck in the head by a target shooter’s stray bullet while his family drove down a dirt road through an aspen forest in northern Utah, gazing at the gorgeous autumn foliage.
  • Amon Rice, 17, was cut down in a Wild West-style shootout in South Carolina that involved seven guns and 58 shots fired.
  • Paxton Edwards, a 3-year-old was shot and killed by his father, who also shot Paxton’s sister, Brinley, 4, his brother, Jacob, 6, their mom, Julie, and then himself.

What’s to blame? A pervasive gun culture, a basic lack of respect for other human beings, the National Rifle Association, politicians who won’t take a stand for fear of losing the votes of those who fear the Second Amendment will be subverted.

Though the high body count of semi-automatic weapons, and their bloody outcomes, capture Americans’ rapt attention, the incremental toll from handgun violence is where we really need to focus.

One thing is clear: Parkland and its activist students have made a difference overall.

In more than 20 states, gun-safety efforts were galvanized in a way that didn’t occur after previous shootings. “Parkland is the one time where there really has been motion, in part because it became clear that it did not have to occur, that there were policies in place in other states that could have prevented this, and we’ve seen motion,” Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor and professor at the University of California-Davis,” says in the report.

In several states, legislatures lifted the minimum age to own a gun to 21, at least for certain models. In others, they boosted background checks, and in still others, they allowed temporary court orders to prevent at-risk individuals from accessing firearms, called red-flag laws.

That was all Parkland.

That’s all well and good. But still, another 1,100 young lives were snuffed out by bullets in the last 365 days. Whom do we talk to about that? And who is ready to take action?

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