Stories from the Stoneman Douglas Shooting and the Movement That Sparked a Revolution
From January 1, 2018, until February 14, 2018, there have been a total of 18 school shootings, which averages about 3 per week in a little over a month. On that fateful Ash Wednesday, 17 lives were lost, more than 15 people were injured, and countless lives changed forever.
When 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till was lynched in Mississippi by evil incarnate, his mother decided on an open-casket funeral. Although her son’s face was completely unrecognizable, she wanted the world to see what they had done to her child — and what evil could do to anyone’s child. This story serves as an open-casket — to let the world know, experience, and understand the terror that these students felt on that day. I write this story, not for my glory, but in memory of the 17 lives lost.
The dialogue is written to the best of the students’ memories. Some of the students’ parents, their teachers, and their friends’ names have been excluded or changed for privacy purposes. Reader discretion is advised due to graphic mentions of violence and guns.
Almost every modern bildungsroman ever broadcasted on television taught me that high school was supposed to be the best four years of my life. However, I was a shy, awkward, post-pubescent black girl living in the suburbs of South Florida as an only child to strict Afro-Caribbean parents. You get the idea — my coming-of-age was anything but idyllic. But during those formative years in high school, the only thing I felt uneasy about what was my future: where I would go to college, what life I would lead, and if I would die alone. I never had to come face-to-face with my mortality, I never had to text my parents a final goodbye, and I never had to shield my body from stray bullets with the back of a history textbook. This experience was never my reality, nor was it my biggest fear.
During the spring of 2018, following the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, I became aware that one of my family friends, Samantha Grady, was injured in the shooting. I grew increasingly interested in this story — her story — as it became more personal. Along with the help of Samantha and other MSD students — Scott, Em, and Leonor — news media clips, magazine articles, Google searches, and social media posts, I was able to tell their stories in the most honest way I knew how. These are the stories of the 208th school shooting since Columbine, the students who survived that fateful Wednesday, and the movement that sparked a revolution.
St. Valentine’s Day.
A legend contended that St. Valentine was a priest who served during third century Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, who realized the injustice of separating two people who love each other, defied the emperor and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. His martyrdom was then commemorated on February 14 and became an international holiday celebrating love, romance, and passion. St. Valentine could not have imagined that thousands of years later, this day could turn into one most terrifying. Neither could the students who lived through it.
On February 14, 2018, Em Jiminian-Stoll, woke up, got ready, and hopped into her regular carpool for school. She strolled through the doors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as she would any other day. However, today was different. It was Valentine’s Day. Em observed the girls walking throughout the hallway — some with a little more makeup than usual, some dressing fancier than usual, and others even carrying heart-shaped balloons from and for their loved ones and crushes. She also noticed that the often puberty-ridden boys smelled a bit nicer and dressed a bit cleaner than usual.
As a part of her position as secretary of her high school’s gay-straight alliance, Em helped set up a booth at lunch where friends and couples of all orientations could come up, write each other’s names, and receive a small certificate affirming their love, whether platonic or romantic. Moments before the lunch period ended, Helena Sawyer, stopped by her best friend’s booth.
“I wrote a proclamation of love for you,” said Em.
Helena smiled as Em handed her the small certificate. Em kissed her forehead before they parted ways as the school bell rang. And that was the last time she saw Helena.
This Is Not A Drill
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School administration had ordered a fire alarm drill for February 14, 2018, sometime between 9:18 am to 11 am. There had been rumors of an active shooter drill that spread like gunfire throughout the school. An active shooter simulation involved a simulated “active shooter” who would go around to classrooms while students “simulated” the correct thing to do during an active shooting. So, when the fire alarm rang towards the last twenty minutes of the previous period, Em and her classmates sat in their classroom, confused.
That’s weird, she thought. Maybe it’s some senior just trying to get out of school a bit earlier. Em, and her classmates evacuated with the fire drill, grabbing their stuff as there were only twenty minutes of school left. But as she walked out of the classroom and down the hallway, she heard something.
At first, she didn’t think they were gunshots, because, to her, they didn’t sound like gunshots. When a mass of high schoolers sprinted down the hallway, she scoffed. These are a bunch of idiots because there’s no way that a bullet is that quiet, Em thought.
As she strolled outside, Em was greeted outside by several members of the MSD administration.
“Get behind the portables,” one of the administrators commanded with shaky authority in their voice.
Out of all the fire drills that happened since the school year started, none of them ever required Em or her fellow MSD classmates to ‘get behind the portables.’ She knew something was wrong, but she wasn’t quite sure yet.
They ran behind the portables, yet another administrator pushed her and her classmates to keep running.
“Keep going down!”
They kept running until they reached the baseball field, but it wasn’t enough for this administrator–they just had to keep running.
Another MSD faculty rode around on a golf cart yelling, “Code Red! Code Red!”
No one could tell what was happening. Everyone just knew that it was different from before: terribly confusing and terribly frightening.
Em and her classmates dashed to the opposite side of West Glades Middle School and huddled into a cramped area. A litter of high school students scrambled to the nearest haven. A helicopter hovered over the school grounds, its wings fashioning a tornado of disarray. A police car wedged itself in between the sign of West Glades Middle School, and the entrance of the space Em and her classmates were huddled, closing them off from any passersby, or potential shooters. Then, a policeman emerged from the car with a large rifle. This no longer felt like a drill to Em.
After Em called her mom to tell her what happened, she called her best friend, Helena. No answer. But that was normal for her because her phone was usually on Do Not Disturb. So, Em shrugged it off.
Em and her friends exchanged phones back-and-forth to call their parents, their loved ones, their siblings, whomever. As there was a Walmart behind West Glades Middle, Em and some of the students who hid with her walked in that direction. Police officers lined up and down the street as every student pulled each other along to the Walmart amid the confusion.
Em overheard that Ms. Schamis’ class was shot up. She realized that Helena might’ve had Schamis that day, but she couldn’t quite remember. She called Helena again. No answer. She called Helena’s mother. Her mother hadn’t heard from her either.
“I’ll call you back if I hear from her,” she reassured Helena’s mother.
Em got Samantha’s number from a friend who knew that they had Holocaust Studies together. But no one had heard from Helena.
Em and a bunch of students waited in front of the Walmart when some police officers walked over to them. They pushed the students to keep moving forward, moving them across the parking lot. Then, Em’s phone rang.
“Helena’s been injured…she’s been shot.”
She hung up, and immediately dials Helena’s mother’s number, updating her on the whereabouts of her daughter.
There is a patch of grass situated where the Walmart parking lot ends and where Coral Ridge street begins. Em, and other MSD students stood there aimlessly until a couple of police officers approached them.
“Hey sit down,” they commanded, “we still haven’t found him yet so sit down.”
Em sat on the patch of grass and waited for further instructions from the police. The police officers line up the students one-by-one, asking them for their information and if they saw anything. Most of the students witnessed nothing because of where they were in the school when the shooting occurred.
When Em’s mother finally picked her up from school, they began their search for Helena. They searched through every hospital in the area, yet no one could trace her body to a hospital bed or an operating room. Em called the last trauma center. No luck. There were only males.
Stoneman Douglas administration had set up a reuniting area at a nearby hotel, where friends and loved ones reunited with each other amid the hysteria of the shooting. Em waited and waited and waited. She hoped to see Helena walk through the front doors of the hotel with her long, brown, curly hair and infectious smile.
By this time, it was almost midnight. Em’s mother wanted to get her sister home for school the next day, so they went on a quick coffee run, dropped off Em back at the hotel, and her mother brought her sister back home. Em waited patiently. To keep her mind occupied, she talked with Helena’s family who had already been waiting there.
At around 2 A.M., each family at the hotel was called into a meeting room to be updated on the whereabouts of their child or loved one. Helena’s family was the last to be called. Em stood there, not sure if it would be appropriate if she followed the family into the meeting room, but Helena’s mother pulled her in with the rest of the family. They all sat down in a circle as a detective started talking. He told them what had happened to Helena, but most unfortunately, he told them that she was dead.
Em and Helena’s family sat there in total shock, numb and righteously outraged. After they sat in the meeting room for a few more minutes, Helena’s parents finally hopped into the car and dropped Em back home. It was the absolute worst day of Em’s life. Her whole world flipped upside down as she reckoned with the loss of her best friend. Although she knew that this shooting was undoubtedly not a drill anymore, she wanted to believe that her best friend’s death was just another terrible nightmare.
Samantha Grady rushed into school to her science teacher’s class to deliver her course cards that were due and ran to her first class, AP Psychology, for a test. Before she headed into her test, she reached for her phone to text her friend, Helena, but decided against it as she knew that she’d see her after her class, as their classrooms were right across from each other.
“I have a gift for you,” said Helena when she spots her friend, Samantha, after class. In her hands was a picture of Samantha’s favorite K-Pop artist and a lollipop.
“Oh, my goodness, you did this for me? You’re soooo amaaaazing!” said Samantha, fully aware of how dramatic she was acting over a small Valentine’s gift.
They parted ways again until they met up for lunchtime, cramming seven of their friends onto a hallway bench built for three. Their bodies moved to the sounds of their favorite K-Pop songs as they were dancing throughout the hallway, full of unbridled, teenaged joy.
When the school bell rang, Samantha suffered through physics and then moved on to Holocaust Studies, where she’s reunited with her best friend, Helena. Towards the beginning of the class, each student presented on hate groups throughout the world, and, afterward, completed an assignment on Hitler in the 1936 Olympics.
And then they heard shots.
“It’s a shooting!” Helena panics as she shoves Samantha out of the way of the door.
Oh my gosh this is happening, thought Samantha. They run to the left side of the classroom behind the bookshelf, distancing themselves from the door.
“Grab a book,” commands Helena.
Samantha grabs a medium-sized textbook and holds it in front of her, barely covering the most sensitive parts of her body. All Samantha saw were feet as she looked down the entire time. However, at that moment, she felt this perfect peace. She knew she wasn’t going to die. Her hands danced everywhere as she was so nervous of the pain that was to come, but she knew that her God would protect her. He was now her only solace.
The shooter had moved down the hallway to Samantha’s classroom. First, he shot through the glass window to secure a hole through the door. Then he shot at random into the classroom. He could see them, so he was shooting at them. He shoots and shoots and shoots through the classroom door.
Samantha felt a particular heaviness in the air. She could not feel the bullets landing on her, but when they ricocheted off of the walls and desks and bodies that filled the room, they felt heavy. That’s the only word she could describe it as. Heavy.
She then inched closer to one of her classmates, who crouched in a spot in front of her, to become invisible to the shooter. “If I can’t see him, he can’t see me,” she rationalized.
Samantha turned around and checked on her friend Helena…and she was not good. It didn’t look good at all. Bright red dots of blood dripped off of her nose and out of her nose, which was never a good indication of life.
Samantha knew what she saw in front of her, but she did not have the time to mourn her friend as he was still there. Therefore, she continued moving closer to her classmate, Dylan; at one point she was entirely on top of him as they were crouched in their classroom, waiting.
Then, it got quiet.
During that moment of eerie stillness, she took out her phone and called the police. As she talked to the operator, she instructed Samantha to drop the phone and keep the line open if the shooter came back. And at that moment, the idea of the shooter returning to finish what he started frightened Samantha.
She took one last look at her best friend. Dread and worry occupied her thoughts as she reckoned with the idea of possibly losing her best friend. She suffered through a brief moment of panic, composing herself as she remembered that he’s still in the building. Therefore, she could not lose her sensibilities.
Samantha and her classmates heard male voices coming down the hallway, growing louder as each second passed. It’s gotta be the police, she thought. But the doubt in her mind was still very much present. Maybe it’s him.
The police burst through the bullet-marked door into a classroom of frightened teenagers. From the looks on the students’ faces, they were all living their worst nightmares and understanding a tiny glimpse of the terror that over six million Jews felt during the Holocaust, of whom they could only read about in their textbooks.
“Is anyone injured?”
The experience of pain is highly variable between individuals. However, our bodies have created their response to perceived threats or dangers to the human body called the fight-or-flight response. During this specific biochemical reaction, certain hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy. Moreover, in situations of fight-or-flight, one often cannot feel a pain that is present in one’s own body, and it usually takes 20 to 60 minutes after the threat is gone for the body to return to homeostasis. Therefore, when Samantha did not feel that her breast grazed during the shooting, it wasn’t because she possessed a high pain tolerance. Her body was experiencing an event so traumatic, and the threat still lingered around the school which caused her body to remain in a state of fight-or-flight.
Samantha and some of her classmates were escorted out of her Holocaust Studies classroom by policemen and brought out to the front of the freshman building. The police officer stationed at the front of that building yelled, “Run.” So, she raced to the other side of the campus. She remembered that she had no previous contact with her parents after that morning when they dropped her off at school; she ducked behind a truck she saw mid-sprint and dialed her mom’s number.
“Mom, there was a shooting, umm, I’m hurt, but I’m ok.”
Radio silence transmitted over the phone call.
“Wait, hold on…what?”
The alarming news did not quite register with her mother as Samantha relayed a portion of the afternoon’s traumatic events. Her mother interrupted her throughout the phone call with myriad questions, disoriented by the alarming news.
“If you don’t see me, I am in an ambulance,” said Samantha. “I’m hurt, but I am ok,” she repeated.
“But I think something happened to Helena…I think she’s dead.”
Samantha hung up and dashed across the street. She overheard her classmates talking among themselves, saying that he was still here. She became very paranoid and retreated to a set of bushes she saw and hid amongst those bushes. She grabbed her friend.
“Let’s go…he’s still here.”
Samantha and her friend wandered through a nearby neighborhood, Parkland Isles, dashing in between houses as they hid from danger. She turned around towards the school and didn’t see anyone approaching, but she knew that she didn’t feel safe.
She left the neighborhood, saw an ambulance on the side of the school and ran toward them. She then tapped on the shoulder of one of the paramedics.
“I’ve been hurt.”
“To be honest,” confessed Samantha, “I didn’t feel anything, and I didn’t believe that I got shot for some reason, but I just knew I was injured because other people told me.”
She raised her hand slowly to show the paramedic her injury.
“Sit down here,” ordered the paramedic.
“But he’s still here,” Samantha worried, “He could still be here.”
“Well that would be the most stupid mistake he could ever make as police surround this place,” responded the paramedic. “He would be an idiot if he ever did that.”
This fact did not ease Samantha’s fears as her logic and paranoia collided with her fight-or-flight instinct to want to distance herself from the school as much as possible to feel safe yet knowing that she was as safe as she could be in the paramedic’s care.
“Check her through and through,” ordered another paramedic. They cut through her shirt and assessed her apparent injuries.
“Yeah, she was definitely shot,” muttered one of the paramedics.
“Wait, what? I mean someone probably bumped into me, but I didn’t get shot.”
A very bewildered Samantha didn’t register that she was hurt by a violent attacker, the same one who possibly took her friend’s life. Samantha noticed a girl sitting in the ambulance with gunshot wounds on both of her thighs. The wounded girl sat there quietly as she was tended to by the paramedics.
As Samantha boarded the ambulance to the hospital, she remembered the hymn, God Will Take Care of You, and sang it aloud as a source of comfort.
Through days of toil when heart doth fail
God will take care of you
When dangers fierce your path assail
God will take care of you
“Please be quiet,” urged one of the paramedics as they drove to the hospital.
Samantha rolled her eyes through her tears. Just let me sing this song, she thought.
A few minutes later, Samantha entered the Broward Health North Medical Center. As one of the first few to arrive at the hospital after the shooting, the nurses and doctors rushed to her care by applying a numbing cream, stitching up her wound, and other required medical procedures.
The medical staff at the hospital explained the state of her injury: fragments of the bullets lodged in her right breast and her back was grazed, which led the doctors to believe that there were two bullets. But although the doctors were explaining the extent of her injuries, the only thing she could concentrate on was her dying phone. Her parents needed to know where she was. She needed to know if Helena would make it.
“Does anyone have a charger? Anyone?” she pleaded with the hospital staff. But the only person that had a phone charger was the girl shot in both of her legs. She borrowed her charger later on in the evening.
Samantha’s parents finally arrived at her hospital room. Her father’s face was etched with worry as he rushed to the side of her hospital bed. Her mother, who looked like she had been crying before she made it to the room, stood at the entrance of the room for a moment and stared long and hard at Samantha before moving closer to her daughter’s hospital bed.
“Have you heard anything from Helena?” her mother asked after she quickly assessed that Samantha was going to survive her injuries. Samantha shook her head. Then, Helena’s mother called Samantha.
“Sam, do you have any news of Helena?” Helena’s mother panicked over the phone.
“So, you haven’t heard anything from her either, I — — .”
Samantha interrupted herself and handed the phone to hospital staff to check the hospital records, but they could not find any record of Helena entering or leaving the hospital.
A few hours later, Samantha was wheelchaired out of the hospital where she sees her church family waiting in the lobby, praying. And although she had loved ones surrounding her, there was only one thing on her mind: Helena. Samantha posted on her Snapchat later that night, begging for information on her friend’s whereabouts.
Samantha lay awake that night, wondering what happened to her friend and reliving the trauma of that day. Although she had recognized that her friend might have died in the classroom, she somehow still clung to a shred of hope that Helena was still alive. But at around 3 a.m., her phone rang with the most horrifying news, and all that she wanted not to be true became a reality. Helena was dead.
Oh God, I’m going to die, thought Leonor Munoz as she raced down the hallway to the outside as the fire alarm blared through the hallway. Previously, she thought some jerk or the culinary class had set off the fire alarm. But when she overheard an administrator say Code Red as she ran outside, she could only imagine what was happening at her school.
This kid is so smart. He’s just going to get us all outside and mow us down, thought Leonor. With that thought, she ran back inside to the auditorium and ducked in between the seats. She sat with a friend as they peeked between the seats and held onto each other’s hands for dear life.
“It’s just a drill…it’s probably just a drill,” Leonor’s friend whispered as they held onto each other. Somehow, they both knew that it wasn’t just a drill, but they refused to believe that someone would do this at their school. When they rushed into the auditorium earlier, security guards followed behind them, keeping everyone who had retreated to the auditorium safe.
“Okay, everyone stays down!” a security guard warned.
“Why aren’t they telling us if it’s a drill?” Leonor asked her friend, annoyed.
“We can get mad at them later, but right now we have to hide and stay quiet,” her friend responded.
Loud voices echoed outside of the doors to the auditorium. Several people banged incessantly on the doors of the auditorium, begging to be let through the doors. Leonor wondered if they were the police or the SWAT team until they finally arrived. As she had the chance, Leonor pulled out her phone and texted her family.
Whether the shooting was real or not, there was nothing that her parents could do. Leonor grappled with that thought for a while as she cautioned her parents not to panic. Of all the things Leonor noticed at that moment, she couldn’t help but notice that she felt an absence of emotion. She allowed herself to feel no emotions as she knew that was the last time she wouldn’t be able to feel anything.
The police, the FBI, and the SWAT team huddled in the area between the seats of the auditorium and the stage. Leonor texted her family every few minutes, reassuring them of her safety. She knew that in a matter of minutes life could take a tragic turn and she did not want her parents to be worried and think that she died. She texted her brother to remind him that they were going to watch Black Panther that weekend, maintaining the hope that she would survive the shooting.
“Ok, you’re going to get up, put your hands up, and make a single file line out of the building,” instructed a policeman, “And run.”
Leonor couldn’t run as fast as her classmates as she was wearing a long dress and flip-flops on the worst day possible. But as she raced to the outside, she noticed a girl with tears streaming down her face. Leonor ran to console her, but the girl blurted the unthinkable.
“Five people are dead!”
Leonor dropped her backpack in the middle of the road and raced to where the police directed her. As she’s speeding away from the school grounds, she sees one of her friends.
“Did you hear what happened to Carmen?” her friend asked.
“Uh…no…” she shakes her head, confused. “What happened?”
“She got shot in the leg…or maybe the arm I can’t remember…maybe both,” her friend replied.
She stood there in disbelief. Carmen Schentrup was shot.
Leonor’s mother picked her up from school that day in their family’s minivan. She asked several people she recognized if they needed rides home as her mother was willing to take anyone back home. As she hopped into her family minivan, Leonor was finally able to get a hold of a phone charger. She opened her messages and sent a selfie to her family group chat. She wanted to reassure everyone that she was okay, but her usual smiling and cheerful countenance etched with dread and disbelief of the day’s events.
Leonor and her mother reached home finally. She greeted her dog at the door and began to feel every emotion that her body didn’t allow her to process before because she was so terrified. She sobbed as she petted her dog. Her usually anxious dog sensed her grief and offered her solace by licking her arm incessantly.
She turned on the TV and watched as much of every news outlet as she could. She wanted to saturate herself in the events of that day, for all she knew was her perspective. All she knew was how she processed it all. And all she knew so far was that about twenty people were injured and five people were dead.
Through the influx of several news media outlets, she learned that the shooter used an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, a similar type of weapon used to gun down twenty elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut. She learned that several people died, but the final body count was not updated. She sat in front of the television in disbelief.
How could someone do such a thing? she asked herself.
A Loud, Banging Noise
Supersonic travel is a rate of travel of an object that exceeds the speed of sound. For objects traveling in the dry air of a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, this speed is approximately 1,125 feet per second or 768 mph. Most bullets travel faster than supersonic speed. When you hear the sound of gunfire, what you hear is a mini sonic boom simultaneously with the explosion of the gunpowder and the resultant gas from the barrel of the gun after the bullet leaves. If shots are fired in a home, or even a building, the sound will be slightly muffled and much harder to differentiate from other loud, slightly metallic banging noises.
15-year-old Scott Amos, his teacher, Mrs. Mickow, and his classmates in his study hall class heard a loud, somewhat metallic banging noise coming from outside of the classroom. They all assumed that it was computer hardware that had probably fallen somewhere nearby — nothing too out of the ordinary. Then, the fire alarm rang. Everyone in his class exited the room orderly and marched towards the stairwell. When Scott and his classmates reached the top of the stairs, they heard more of the loud, slightly metallic banging noises. Only this time he knew that they were gunshots.
Everyone at the top of the stairs panicked and stampeded back to the room. The teacher followed the protocol and shut the door to any outsiders, even keeping out the students who desperately needed a safe hiding place. After about a minute in the classroom, Scott heard more gunshots and more students wailing and screaming, as if begging for mercy over their lives. The shooter yelled incomprehensibly at his victims as he fired off his rifle. It seemed like an eternity as the shooter, filled with rage, dashed in between different classrooms of Building 1200 firing at his victims.
Scott and his classmates crammed tightly into a corner of the room that hid their bodies securely from the door, in case the shooter decided to make a quick trip up the stairs to their classroom. After what felt like roughly a decade, a large man banged on the classroom door, demanding to be let in. Scott panicked as he beheld the rifle that the man carried in his arms.
Maybe it’s the attacker, Scott thought for a brief moment as he grappled with life and death. But as he recognized his official uniform, he breathed a sigh of relief. The SWAT officer instructed Scott and his classmates to gather up their belongings and leave the room in a single-file line.
“Do not look at the ground,” an officer instructed. “Keep your heads up and look straight ahead of you.”
However, Scott’s curiosity got the best of him as he walked down the hallway and beheld the gore of the crime scene. Blood and plaster dust splattered across the floors and the walls of the hallway. Crimson red smears graffitied the walls and tile floors. Puddles of bright, red blood collected where lifeless bodies had once laid. Streams of blood led down the hallway as SWAT officers dragged lifeless bodies to proper medical personnel. A cluster of SWAT officers formed a trail down the hallways as they escorted the students out of the building safely. As Scott and the other surviving bodies in the building reached outside, groups of parents and family members were held off behind police officers, awaiting the news of their children with horror engraved into their faces like tombstones.
Scott and his classmates marched past more SWAT vehicles and officers and into the nearby neighborhood, Parkland Isles. He waited in that neighborhood for about a half-hour as traffic was terrible, his father was stuck in said traffic, and the police had most of the roads blocked off for safety concerns. As his father had trouble reaching him to pick him up, he instructed Scott to meet him at an intersection near the school grounds. While walking towards the intersection, he saw a close family friend whose daughter attended Stoneman Douglas and hopped into their car to their home. Scott reached his family friend’s house and waited until his father picked him up.
Scott reached home at around 6 P.M as his mother anxiously awaited his return. He noticed that when his father picked him up from their family friend’s house, he was rather relieved to see him, yet his father maintained the same calm demeanor he had throughout the day. Scott ate macaroni and cheese his father cooked and sat in his room, texted his friends, reassured their safety, and compared each other’s stories, as each had experienced something completely different, yet the same. As he sat in his room, he played the events over and over and over in his head. He wanted a better understanding of the things he witnessed. He thought about what this would mean for his school. He thought about his friends and how they were coping. He also wondered if he was experiencing shock or if he would eventually experience a mental breakdown. He never did. But he was worried that it would happen eventually. He thought about what all of this meant for his well-being. Scott sat with his thoughts in his room as he read until he quietly lulled himself to sleep.
THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is one of ten amendments that form the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791 by the United States Congress. An amendment of utmost contention.
During the Revolutionary War era, “militia” referred to groups of men, mostly white, who banded together to protect their communities, towns, colonies, and eventual states, once the United States declared their independence from Great Britain on the historic day of July 4, 1776. Many American citizens and European settlers believed that governments often used soldiers to exert tyranny against the people. Evidence from history suggested that this risk of tyranny could be controlled by permitting the government to raise armies, with full-time, paid soldiers, when facing foreign adversaries such as the British empire, a previously unmatched world power.
However, the militia proved to be insufficient against the British, and the Constitutional Convention gave the new federal government the power to establish a standing army, even in peacetime. Anti-Federalists, who were opponents of a stable central government argued that this standing army deprived states of their ability to defend themselves, fearing that Congress might abuse its constitutional power of organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, by failing to keep militiamen equipped with adequate arms. Therefore, shortly after the Constitution was officially ratified, future president James Madison proposed the Second Amendment as a way to empower these state militias. This amendment did not answer the broader Anti-Federalist concerns of a strong central government but established the principle that the government did not have the authority to disarm their citizens.
Fast forward to the Civil Rights and the Black Panther Movements of the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout the late 1960s, the militant black nationalist group used their understanding of the finer details of California’s gun laws to highlight their political statements about the subordination of black Americans. Therefore, on May 2, 1967, thirty members of the Black Panther Party stood firmly on the steps leading up to the California State Capitol Building, armed with .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols. They declared boldly, “The time has come for black people to arm themselves.” This display frightened the state government as they took grand measures to enforce strict gun control laws that targeted communities of color. However, the Black Panther Party was no more revolutionary than our Founding Fathers. They merely wanted to protect themselves and their communities from a tyrannical government.
Until the mid-1970s, the National Rifle Association mainly focused on sportsmen, hunters, and target shooters while deemphasizing gun control. It was not until after 1977 that the organization expanded its membership by focusing heavily on political issues and forming coalitions with conservative politicians who mainly identified with the Republican Party.
The politicization of the NRA has been consistent. A 1999 Fortune magazine survey stated that lawmakers and their staffers considered the NRA to be the most powerful lobbying organization. Of the members of the Congress that convened in 2013, 51 percent received funding from the NRA political action committees within their political careers, and 47 percent received NRA money in their most recent campaigns. In the 2016 election, the NRA spent about $11.4 million to support President Donald Trump’s campaign and donated almost $20 million to groups opposing Hillary Clinton.
These contributions made by the NRA are a better measure of the politicians’ allegiances to the NRA than the NRA’s influence over the politicians. In some instances, the National Rifle Association has become the tyrannical governing body that our Founding Fathers were afraid of, pounding their gavel and using their ironclad fists filled with campaign donations to bend the puppet politicians to their every political whim. And at the height of our 21st century, our country’s future leaders are looking to challenge the status quo and move their allegiance elsewhere — back to the people.
Three days after Valentine’s Day, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, stood in front of a podium at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Parents, family, friends, and activists surrounded the young Cuban-American as she spoke into the microphone the three powerful words of the burgeoning movement: We Call B.S.
For all of the politicians who sit comfortably in their House and Senate Seats lining their pockets with funding from the NRA, while also telling the citizens they took an oath to represent that nothing can be done.
“We call B.S.”
For everyone who says that guns are mere tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars.
“We call B.S.”
For everyone who says that no laws could have or ever will prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred or will occur.
“We call B.S.”
The political consciousness of Emma’s generation awakened. The crowd chanted, “throw them out,” as she called them to action.
“Contact your local Congresspeople. Give them a piece of your mind.”
The March for Our Lives movement came together on March 24, 2018, and has been a mainstay in the public arena ever since. The movement sparked national protests as students from the Black Lives Matter movement, survivors of the Columbine shooting, parents from Sandy Hook, and students from Chicago and Baltimore rallied behind the students from Parkland. Students from small rural towns, large urban cities, private and public institutions took action as they walked out of their classrooms to protest against the gun violence that plagued their nation. Their mission and focus were clear: to assure that no special interest group or political agenda is more critical than the timely passage of legislation to adequately address the gun violence issues that pervade American society. With Donald Trump as president and the Republicans holding the majority seat in Congress, we can see why their statements are more crucial than ever. It also begs the question: Are people’s — children’s — lives less valuable than a political motive?
“People should’ve changed things after the first [shooting],” said Scott. “But they’ve let it go unchecked for too long now, and I want to do anything I can to help change that.”
“Who is they?” I asked Scott during our phone interview.
Of the top ten politicians backed or funded by the National Rifle Association is the son of Cuban immigrants and a Florida native, Marco Rubio. According to a website called Open Secrets, Rubio received over $3 million in “outside money” consisting of campaign spending conducted on behalf of political candidates by NRA PACs since 1989 and money spent by outside groups supporting and opposing these candidates and their counterparts. When this information became more widely recognized, Marco Rubio defended accepting contributions from the NRA, telling a Parkland school shooting survivor in a CNN town hall that “the influence of these groups comes not from money, [but]…from the millions of people that agree with the agenda, the millions of Americans that support the NRA.”
“In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?” Cameron Kasky, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, pleaded with the senator.
“I think in the name of 17 people,” responded Rubio, “I can pledge to you that I will support any law that will prevent a killer like this from getting a gun.”
“No, but I’m talking about NRA money,” Cameron retorted.
The two bantered back-and-forth as Rubio refused to give a clear direction on his relationship with the NRA and the student pleaded for mercy over the 17 lives lost and the many more to come if gun control laws were not to be changed.
“Are you gonna be accepting money from the NRA in the future?” Cameron repeated.
“I will always accept the help of anyone who agreed with my agenda. But my agenda is — I’ll give you a perfect example — ”
“Your agenda is protecting us, right?”
We are a nation that watched hundreds of people die at the hands of military-grade rifles and treated it like a shampoo commercial. Shampoo. Rinse. Condition. Repeat. People Die. Thoughts and Prayers. No Action Taken. Repeat. However, this is not outside of the realm of possibility as we are also a nation who watched twenty elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut be gunned down mercilessly, with no serious conversation or action being done. A country unbound by our morality. One nation under God.
Em and I talked over the phone extensively about her experience that day and how she longed for her best friend, Helena. Then, I asked her a question.
“What did you think about think about gun control before the shooting?”
“As far as gun control goes…” she continued, “I’ve always believed that we needed better background checks. We need better mental health precautions.”
“So, would you buy a gun in the future?”
“Personally, I can’t listen to things that sound like gunshots now, but I know that when I do get over it, eventually I’m going to purchase a handgun,” said Em.
Florida state gun laws do not necessitate the registration of shotguns, rifle, or handguns. There is no required Florida gun permit to purchase firearms. Virtually anyone 18 years of age and older can buy or possess a firearm; it is illegal for a minor to purchase or own a firearm, but may do so only with the permission of a parent or legal guardian. Em could very well walk into a store and purchase a handgun when she felt the time was right.
“Military-grade rifles like the one he had…what do you think about those?”
“I don’t think that we should take away giant rifles like the AR-15…I don’t think it’s feasible. People aren’t going to want to give up their guns especially now that they know that BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office] failed them so horribly.”
The Broward Sheriff’s Office, specifically Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, had been under intense scrutiny for how they handled complaints received about Cruz in the years leading up to the shooting, as well as reports that deputies failed to act during the shooting. Essentially, our public authorities never took Cruz seriously — and if they did, they were a little too late.
“I mean who’s going to wanna give up their guns after knowing the people who will have the guns aren’t really going to protect you even though it’s literally their only job,” said Em.
Why did the Broward Sheriff’s Office not take the necessary precautions towards Cruz when he had such a penchant for violence? Was it inherent bias? Was it inadequate training? What I do know is that because of the lack of gun control laws, the lives of the students at the Parkland shooting are marred by the loss of their 17 friends on that fateful day.
The National Rifle Association derives its power from one thing: their ability to control the outcomes at the polls. That explains why the NRA is so infuriated at the student’s call-to-action because they have exposed their organization’s century-long battle plan. Thanks to the students who survived the Parkland shooting, the nation can see that the NRA is losing their impact, and they may have just lost a future generation. Losing breeds panic. And panic causes you to take extraordinary measures. Despite the incessant attacks on the characters and lives of high school students, March For Our Lives remains a constant fixture in our society. Nikolas Cruz, the NRA, and all of the politicians lobbying against gun control messed with the wrong school. The movement isn’t going anywhere. There’s more work to be done.