Two weeks after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, I visited friends whose son is a 9th grader who was sheltering in a classroom during the shooting. We went to the son's basketball game, I sat next to the parents of one of the children who was murdered and listened to them talk about trying to get the strength to get out of the house and figure out the "new normal" of life without their son Alex. We visited the memorial along the fence at the high school. It broke my heart to see three high school students sitting on the grass looking at the fence, stopping by to say goodnight to a classmate who was killed in the class.
It is time to say, NEVER AGAIN. It is time to change the law, amend the Constitution if we have to, so no family has to find the new normal, no community has to live through the tragedy that has become the new normal.
Below is an open letter to Congress and the President that the friend I visited wrote shortly after the shooting.
“It is 2:38 pm on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. I am at work when I receive a text from my son, Noah, a 9th grader at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Dad, I think there is a shooter at the school I’m in.” “I think it’s real.”
“How do you know it’s real?” I ask, not knowing whether now is really the time for discerning inquiry with my 15-year-old. Do I just accept this information as true and react? It’s not every day a father receives that kind of text from his child. Let’s see what he says…
“I hear gunshots, right outside my classroom,” was the response. How could anyone argue with that, I think to myself. OK, as I begin breathing deeply just to maintain some composure, what do I say next?
“R u safe?” Wow. That’s really stupid. Of course he’s not safe. He’s in a school with a mentally ill person running through the halls of the school shooting everything and everyone in sight.
“There was gunshots and there r sirens and we hear police in the classrooms.”
“R u safe”, I say again, desperately needing to know if he is safe, or as safe as can be under the circumstances and as events are unfolding.
“I’m in classroom.” “Police are here.”
“Is your teacher there?”
“Yea.” Thank G-d for that, I think to myself.
“Is there a cop in the room?”
“In the school trynna to find the guy.”
“R u underneath a desk?”
“Yea.” “They’re fighting him now I think.”
How’s this for some fatherly advice: “Stay low to the ground, cover your head with a thick text book, and if anyone with a gun passes by you, do not breathe or move and make it appear like u r dead already.” What? Did I just write that to my son?
My wife, Robin, had a similar exchange with Noah during the shooting spree. Her motherly advice consisted of a text that read: “Stay under the desk, away from floors and windows and do exactly what your teacher tells you to.”
Last night my son had a nightmare that the shooter was following him. I suspect the first of many. So many questions are running through my mind. My mind is racing. Why did this happen? How could this happen? How could this happen in Parkland, Florida? Everyone I speak to all over the country has heard of Coral Springs and Boca Raton, but throughout the years, few people I speak with have heard of Parkland. Could this really be happening here?
Grandma Mickey asked Noah if there was anything she could do for him. His response? “Yeah. Make it Tuesday.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
My daughter, Jocelyn. I think of her now. She is an 11th grader at Stoneman Douglas. But she is not at school today. In fact, she is in Israel doing her entire second semester abroad and has been there since January 28th. Thank G-d she was not at school today so she is safe. Wait, did I just say that? How ironic, I think to myself. My daughter is safer in Israel than she would have been had she gone to her high school classes in the United States.
Thankfully, my son, Gavin, is out of high school and attending college in New York. Safe, I think, unless there should be a school shooting where he is.
Why does anyone think that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an unqualified right? A right that transcends the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness? A right that transcends the right of our children to attend school in a safe and secure learning environment? For those without mental illness, it makes sense that people who act/can act responsibly with a gun should have the right to defend themselves and their family. But do we really believe so wholeheartedly in the right to bear arms that anyone, regardless of how they act with a weapon, has this right? It is not a right to inflict pain and suffering on others, and when used in that manner the right must be restricted. I just can’t figure out why our leaders in government don't see that. Forget about the NRA. That argument is old and tired. You want support, financial and otherwise? Give people a safe learning environment in our schools, and I’ll give you millions of people all throughout our country to make up the lost financial support you get from the NRA.
What would happen if someone entered the Capitol Building and went on a shooting spree, killing Congressmen and women, I wonder? How fast would we see gun control laws passed then? Or better yet, when the next school shooting occurs, a child of a person in Congress is one of the students in the school, or gets shot, or gets killed, G-d forbid.
You send our children into a killing zone every day during the school year, and you allow people with mental illness armed with semi-automatic weapons to freely enter enclosed surroundings (also known as schools), leaving our children defenseless (note to self – for the 2018-2019 school year, make sure to add hand guns to the school supply list and give to each one of your kids so they can defend themselves. Oh yeah, that would be illegal). How can you live with yourself knowing that this has been going on for over 20 years and no action has been taken to resolve these issues?
The only improvements we have seen are in the responses to these tragedies. The police in Parkland were on the scene within 3 minutes of receiving the call for help. Grief counselors, clergy, the Red Cross and so many others came to the aid of all of us affected by this shooting. The protocol for catching the shooter has been improved. People all over the country and the world show support, offering thoughts and prayers. But these are just reactions to the tragedies. None of these responses does anything to solve the core issue. Nothing, not one thing, has been done to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of another school shooting from occurring. That is the real tragedy in all of this. This is the problem we all sent you to Washington, DC to resolve. Not immigration reform. Not whether Russia conspired to alter our 2016 election results. Not anything else. I encourage you to read the New York Times article by Dan Barry titled “Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat.” This article accurately describes the insanity that is going on in our country every single time there is a school shooting and appeared in the New York Times yesterday, February 15, 2018 (https://www.nytimes.com/…/florida-school-shooting-thoughts-…).
The problem is not mental illness alone. Clearly, we need to be doing more to screen, evaluate, assist and support those with mental illness. The problem is not guns or gun control alone either. Can’t you see that the problem is the combination of the two, and as long as we have both in our society, we should expect these tragedies to continue? Why do you think the Second Amendment is imbued with an unequivocal right to bear arms. I think it is a right to bear arms responsibly. And if a person cannot responsibly bear arms, s/he does not have an unfettered right to own or carry a weapon. What are you so afraid of? How difficult would it be to pass legislation that screens for mental illness and precludes those with a history from obtaining or carrying a weapon? We have precedent for this: In 1982, 7 people died when Tylenol packaging was tampered with. Since then, it takes a PhD, channel locks and a sharp object to open a bottle of pills. In 1995, a bombing using a certain type of fertilizer, solution grade ammonium nitrate, killed 168 people, so the government imposed severe restrictions on the purchase of that fertilizer. In 2001, a person tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb. Since then, air travelers must remove their shoes for scanning before being allowed to pass through security. Since 1968, 1,516,863 people have reportedly died from guns on American soil.
Today is Friday, February 16. It is the morning and nearly 2 days since the shooting. My other son, Justin, attends Westglades Middle School, adjacent to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We kept him home from school yesterday, although the middle school was open and classes were held. I received an automated message from the school on my phone stating that Justin was absent that day, even though the school informed it would be an excused absence. Today will not be an excused absence. We kept Justin home yesterday because at age 11 he verbalized the fear he has in going to school given the circumstances. Is he any less fearful today? Do I have a choice but to send him to school today? Stoneman Douglas of course remains closed until further notice. How can I justify sending my 11 year old into a school building today? Tomorrow? Or the next day? Oh yeah, and remember to hug your kid and tell him you love him. Just in case he doesn't come home this afternoon. My wife shared this with a cousin concerned about how we are doing: “I dropped Justin at school today, watched him walk into school and then had to pull over to vomit. That’s the intensity of my fear of not knowing if I will ever see him again. Within 30 seconds I had an EMT beside me with water, a Red Cross volunteer holding my hair with a cool towel on my neck and a crisis counselor standing in front of me to “get it all out.” Luckily, Justin saw nothing. Now I showered and getting ready for Meadows funeral today at 12:30 pm. I really can’t think beyond that. Thanks for reaching out.”
Our new reality, I suppose.
On Sunday, we will attend the funeral of Alex Schachter, a 9th grader one classroom over from where my son, Noah, was during the shooting. Alex has been part of Noah’s close circle of friends for many years now. They played basketball on the same team for the last 2 years. Alex and Noah had plans to go on a cruise together with Alex’s father, Max, during the upcoming Spring Break. We spent Super Bowl Sunday at the Schachter home along with many of Alex’s friends. Alex, we learned late Wednesday evening/early Thursday morning, was one of the 17 killed in Wednesday’s shooting. We are working through this day by day. The funeral is Sunday. The next basketball game. Spring Break. None of these things will be the same now. And every day for the rest of our lives will be different because Alex is not here. To Caryn, Max, Ryan, Morgan and Avery, we love you guys and our hearts are broken thinking about your pain and your loss. My hope is that the opportunity Alex lost to make a difference in this world when he lost his life on Wednesday will not be for naught. Legislators, are you listening? Take this tragedy and use it to pass legislation that addresses the combined problems of mental illness and possession of weapons, and honor Alex Schachter, the other 16 people that lost their lives, those who were injured in the shooting, the entire student body and teachers at Stoneman Douglas, and all those in school shootings that have occurred previously in our country (Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech just to name a few).
I am an attorney. I went to law school. I am supposed to understand the legal system, how laws are passed, and how change can be effectuated. And yet, I feel powerless. I am not in Congress. I am not the President. I am just an attorney. I don't sponsor legislation – that is what people in Congress are supposed to do. Congresswoman Deborah Wasserman Schultz, are you listening? Senator Marco Rubio, are you listening? Maybe gun control laws won’t prevent mass shootings, but shouldn’t we try to deter them, and make it more difficult for people who use weapons FOR MASS SHOOTINGS from purchasing them? Congressman Ted Deutch, are you listening? Senator Bill Nelson, are you listening? Governor Rick Scott, are you listening? House Speaker Paul Ryan, are you listening? Do you really need more facts before the House of Representatives you are in charge of acts responsibly toward every parent and student in this country? We don't want to hear that free grief counselors will be made available at our school. We don't want to hear the problem is mental illness, or the problem is the Second Amendment, or the NRA, or anything else for that matter. We have solved many other issues in our country, as noted above. The time has come to solve this problem. Now.
I want to end with an apology. My apology goes to everyone affected by other school shootings in our country’s history. My heart went out to everyone affected during those times (I sound like one of the politicians), but it wasn’t until it hit me in my own home, my own backyard, and my own children were affected, that I took the time to write this plea to our lawmakers seeking to effectuate change. I hope you can forgive me for that.
The Sunday five will return next week, I needed to get this posting out.