The Horrific Tipping Point
TRAGEDY AND TEEN ACTIVISM LEADS TO LEGISLATIVE ACTION
The 5th of June, 2013, in Hartford, Connecticut had dawned bright and sunny. Later that afternoon Inside the Capitol building, the mood was significantly more somber as Governor Dannel Malloy and other invited guests paid tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
It had been less than six months since the horrific event in Newtown, and the healing had barely begun.
Soon, it was my turn to speak. Standing center stage, looking out at survivors and supporters of Sandy Hook, I wanted desperately to say some words that could be of solace.
The sweet faces of the children in the crowd overwhelmed me as I began to speak. “The rest of the nation is here for you,” I managed to say. “Your grief is ours, too, and today we honor the memories of those we lost last December.”
Art That Helped Newtown Heal was the theme of the event. The short speech I gave that day as a representative of UNESCO’s Art Miles Mural Project was to formally dedicate 14 hand painted 5’ x 12’ canvas murals that were already adorning the walls of the Capitol building.
We had painted the 14 murals to honor the victims and to press for legislative changes. After speaking at the event and hearing from those impacted I really thought a tragedy like this would never happen again, due to the overwhelming national grief that ensued.
In fact, in Sandy Hook’s aftermath, Connecticut and its neighbor New York passed gun control laws that appear to have made a positive difference. In the five years since the tragedy and the resulting new reforms, Connecticut has seen the steepest drop in violent crime in the nation.
But, over the past five years in Florida and most other states, little had changed legislatively and 290 more school shootings had occurred. Not coincidentally, the teen suicide rate simultaneously continues to rise.
“Sadly, most students at my high school know someone
who has attempted or committed suicide.”
This call to action after the Parkland shooting has shown the nation that my generation is not going to stand for this anymore.
As Florida and the nation watched the Parkland students descend on the Capitol steps in Tallahassee and appear at the White House on national TV, it seemed the groundswell was becoming a tidal wave.
On February 22nd the local newspaper reached out and asked some of my friends and I how we felt about the unfolding events. I was more than happy to contribute my opinion:
Ally Woodard, a senior at Niceville High School, said she hopes the student outcry will prompt legislative changes in the coming months.
“I’ve talked about this with other kids, and we’ve agreed the resources that are being devoted to having additional SROs should be allocated to make actual change to the issue of gun violence,” Woodard said. “This is a call of action with my generation, and I’m proud of the students in Parkland.
“I want guns to be less accessible for people who shouldn’t have them. No automatic weapons. I can’t really think of anyone who should have an automatic weapon on a daily basis except for military personnel.”
I and my fellow students are glad we are being taken seriously and given a voice. This past week the international community watched the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas return to school. Every student I know, including myself, has faced a day where they did not want to go to school, either for lack of sleep, dread of taking a test, or simply drama that seems synonymous with high school.
Regardless, it is disheartening to imagine the feelings of the returning Parkland students who had to face the typical aforementioned trivialities of school as well as painful memories and the unavoidable media presence.
The strength of these students and their community is undeniable. Despite their anguish over the lost members of their school, the victims had taken a stand to prevent another tragedy from ever occurring again.
We were reaching a tipping point.
The changes they catalyzed in a mere three weeks since the shooting is miraculous and is a testament to the potential of our generation.
Now, the Florida Legislature has heard us and is using the Connecticut model to draw upon for guidance. Sadly, it took two major tragedies that devastated two communities, Newtown and Parkland, to provide the framework and the impetus for change. The bill recently signed by Governor Scott, in defiance of the NRA, enacts the first gun law changes in Florida in over 20 years. It is a start.
- Raise the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21
- Mandates a waiting period
- Increases mental health funding for students
- Funds more school security
- Provides a “marshal” program to arm school employees
It does not:
- Ban assault weapons, including the AR-15
- Increase background checks
- Ban high-capacity magazines
Aside from these, other tangible changes will be made most effectively in the voting booths and the schools themselves. Only half of eligible voters in the 18 to 29 year old age range voted in the 2016 election, so my generation has the potential, the opportunity and the responsibility to effect change.
Legislative changes, as well as a culture of vigilance supported by a protocol for students and teachers to report not only people who could be a threat to security of others, but a threat to their own wellbeing, must be established.
Mental health is an equal factor to gun control in terms of providing safe schools. That fact alone made me think of how the school environment itself could be improved when the county where I attend school decided to pay for an additional Student Resource Officer (SRO) at every area high school.
I believe we could enable schools to focus on mental health as a key component of safety by hiring a school psychologist instead of deploying another SRO. Hopefully, as a result of the new bill, the $69 million dollars being provided to schools to address mental health issues will result in psychologists being hired for placement in our schools.
To show our solidarity with the Parkland community and all shooting victims, UNESCO’s Art Miles Mural Project worked with Cal State San Marcos to paint murals intended to honor the victims and assist Parkland students in trying to process their feelings in the aftermath.
In addition, we sent art supplies and a canvas to Parkland so the students could create their own mural, and thereby express their individual feelings about the horrific events in which they have become involuntarily immersed.
For me personally it is incredibly uplifting, and an honor, to work with an organization that constantly responds to global crises with empathy, promotes a culture of unity, and inspires positive international changes.
I hope this tragedy inspires my peers to register to vote. We should support the candidates who have the common goal of addressing the mental health needs of students, and more stringent gun control, so that we never lose another life to a school shooting.