BY EVAN DENNY
On Wednesday, Feb. 14, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. killing 17 people including adults and children. The tragedy sparked conversations among lawmakers and student activists about gun violence.
“Once again, we have experienced another senseless tragedy caused by an individual with apparent mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and deeply personal feelings of a loss of identity or value,” said Paul Healy, the Executive Director of Public Safety at Sacred Heart University.
According to the New York Times, the gunman carried a black duffel bag and backpack where he hid loaded magazines. He arrived at the high school in Parkland at 2:19 p.m. and pulled out a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. He eventually discarded the rifle, a vest, and ammunition in a stairwell and blended in with fleeing students to escape, said authorities.
After leaving the school, the suspect was arrested by the police without incident as he walked down a residential street at 3:41 p.m.
With this shooting, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern United States history have occurred in the last five months. The AR-15 rifle used in the attack was purchased legally at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Florida, according to a federal law enforcement official.
“This is a matter of common sense in providing improved mental health resources and sensible regulatory provisions for verifying backgrounds, training, age-appropriate restrictions for military/assault weapons and banning high-capacity gun magazines,” said Healy.
The FBI received a tip last month that the suspect in the Florida school shooting had a “desire to kill,” access to guns and could be plotting an attack, but agents failed to investigate. Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for the FBI’s director to resign because of the missteps.
“My reaction was one of sadness coupled with frustration that an individual like this was allowed access to such a deadly weapon. When I heard that law enforcement had him under surveillance and visited his home many times and still didn’t prevent him from owning this weapon, I just couldn’t believe it,” said Gary Rose, the chairman of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at Sacred Heart.
Students, parents, teachers, and neighbors in Parkland demanded Saturday that immediate action is taken on gun-control legislation.
“Because of these gun laws, people that I know—people that I love—have died, and I will never be able to see them again,” said Delaney Tarr, a student at the high school, to a crowd at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale about 25 miles from Parkland.
“After all of this, you become desensitized because it seems to be happening all the time. I feel that something needs to be done and I really like how the Parkland students are doing what they can to try and enact change,” said junior Joseph Leo.
Lawmakers and the President have begun discussions about the issue of gun violence. Democrats believe that stricter gun legislation is the answer while Republicans are more focused on mental health and arming citizens.
“Every time a shooting happens we talk about possible solutions, but the people who can actually implement change never really discuss this issue in terms of policy. They fall back to their usual talking points which normally results in inaction,” said junior Ryan Roberts. “I am not sure what the real solution is, but the time to talk about these issues is now.”
Stronger background checks appear to be common ground for both political parties. In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump indicated his desire to strengthen the background check system but offered no specifics. In a Twitter post, Trump stated: “Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!”
“It’s such a difficult topic to analyze and understand. The issue has to be addressed through several approaches including better background checks, enforcing existing laws, mental health intervention, and a legal ban on assault rifles,” said Rose. “The discussion has to begin at the ground level and work its way into stricter laws. The change will be dependent on the efforts of the millennial generation.”
To ensure the safety of students at Sacred Heart, Paul Healy and his team at Public Safety have implemented many programs and protocols so that the community will be able to respond appropriately in the event of an act of violence on campus. These procedures include the Silent Witness Program for reporting suspicious matters, the Sacred Heart University Safe App and the Emergency Alert System (EAS).
“We are looking for our political and professional leaders to show statesmanship across the scope of this critical matter. The words ‘accommodation’ and ‘compromise’ should occur in the thinking of all leaders, thereby advancing the common good to protect the innocent,” said Healy.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.