My daughter Sarah miraculously survived one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. She is a 15-year-old freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Her text in the New York Times that appeared the day after the Feb. 14 shooting must have brought millions to tears: “If I don’t make it, I love you and appreciate all you did for me.”
This has been a life-altering event for my sweet daughter, who I fear has lost her innocence and cries at random moments. She hid in a storage room for two hours with 40 other students whimpering in the dark. She told me they could hear the shots clearly and prayed they would not fall victim to the mass murderer’s bullets. They were aware of the carnage that would await them when they emerged. Stepping over the dead bodies of classmates and teachers was not the way they envisioned the end of their Valentine’s Day.
I was almost beyond the point of no return when a Guardian reporter asked me about gun control the night of the shooting. “I don’t want to debate gun control with you. I really don’t. There are millions and millions of guns out there. What are you going to do — confiscate everyone’s guns?
“I am a gun owner and I don’t want the government to take my gun away.”
I had just picked my daughter up from the Parkland Marriott where she was interviewed by the FBI and was exhausted. But I was mortified when I read my comments the next day online. I didn’t recognize the person in that article. Seventeen dead, and I’m concerned about firearm confiscation?
I realized I was regurgitating a right-wing cable-news talking point I heard a few nights earlier. I own a gun for self-defense. But no one needs a military-style semi-automatic assault rifle like the AR-15 used in the Parkland attack. These guns are widely popular because they’ve been glorified on television shows, YouTube videos and violent video games. Many “normal” Americans are proud gun-rights advocates and closet AR-15 owners. They really enjoy shooting these weapons in a safe, controlled environment such as a gun range. They are not sick or deranged. They have never shown any aggressive tendencies that would suggest a capacity to harm another human being.
But it still doesn’t mean they or anyone else should own one. Easy access to these weapons not only endangers the lives of the public but also poses a real threat to law enforcement.
Common-sense gun control is not the only issue we need to address if we are to prevent future mass school shootings. We need to address school security as well as this country’s mental health crisis. These two issues are as important as gun reform. I think the majority of Americans would support these common-sense gun solutions:
▪ Universal background checks that include mental health data for all gun purchases. This would help close the gun show loopholes.
▪ A ban on individual ownership of all military-style high-velocity, high-capacity semi-automatic assault rifles such as the AR-15 — and the bump stocks that make them fully automatic. A small number of these weapons could be purchased by properly vetted gun range owners, who would rent them to customers. The rifles could be stored and discharged in a safe and controlled environment. Essentially, you check your AR-15 at the door and would pose almost no public safety risk.
▪ No high-capacity magazine capable of carrying more than 10 rounds on any firearm, including handguns.
▪ No sale of any firearms to anyone under 21. Evidence of the lack of impulse control in this age group is well documented.
Politicians have been known to ignore articulate, passionate high school students and they do this at their peril. However, they can’t ignore balding, slightly overweight, middle-aged men, because we vote in large numbers.
Previous administrations have tried, and failed, to muster bipartisan support for reasonable gun regulations, even after such tragedies as Sandy Hook. A few gun control bills were drafted but never passed. I’m reminded of a famous Thomas Edison quote, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
We must continue to try for the sake of the young lives that will perish at the hands of the next school shooter. He may be already planning the attack in your sleepy “safe” enclave.
Remember, Parkland is an upper-middle-class community known for its excellent schools, low crime rate and perfectly manicured landscaping.
Tragically, the school that was once known for its namesake and wonderful author who cared deeply about the majestic Florida Everglades that border my children’s school on the west, has forever been tainted. Our Camelot is forever lost.
John Crescitelli is a family physician in Broward County.