Parkland shooting survivors: “thoughts and prayers” no longer enough

Legislators offer thoughts and prayers following the most recent mass shooting in Florida, but gun violence survivors are letting them know that’s not enough.

"High school students chant and hold candles in memory of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they march around the North Carolina State Capitol building calling for safer gun laws at dusk in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., February 20, 2018." Photo and caption: Jonathan Drake, Reuters

Nikolas Cruz was picked up at 2:06PM in an Uber, carrying a case that contained a loaded AR-15 inside.  Cruz rode in that Uber for 13 minutes with no one aware of the hellish plans in his mind except himself and the apparent demons giving him instruction.  When Cruz arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he walked into the Building 12 east stairwell, unpacked the rifle, and entered the hallway.

He proceeded to fire on students and faculty in the hallway before turning his attention to several classrooms.  He shot into those classrooms and then resumed shooting down the hallways of the building.  After 7 minutes of terror, Cruz dropped the rifle and allegedly ran outside of the school, blending in with other students fleeing the chaos.  He was soon identified at a Walmart and a McDonald’s before being arrested by officers at 3:41PM without incident.

[T]he students of Parkland decided that “thoughts and prayers” wouldn’t be enough this time.

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting, it became clear that 17 innocent victims had lost their lives, with many more wounded.  Predictably, politicians offered their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families; however, the students of Parkland decided that “thoughts and prayers” wouldn’t be enough this time.  Survivors and other students from the area demonstrated outside the Florida State Capitol in Tallahasee on February 21, 2018.  Many students, like Florence Yared, a 17–year–old Majory Stoneman high schooler, admonished state officials to enact stricter measures on gun access, saying, “Some of you said it was too soon to talk gun control.  No, it is not too soon.”  To further their #NeverAgain movement, students and parents attended a town hall held by CNN in which Florida Senator Marco Rubio addressed questions about gun control.

Rubio, a Republican with an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), found himself the target of very pointed questions that required him to give tough, “honest” answers.  When asked if he would refuse to accept donations from the NRA, Rubio hesitantly conceded that he would continue to receive donations from the largest gun rights lobbying organization because “people buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment.”  Rubio believes changing gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy, but he did say he would support laws raising the minimum age for rifle purchases and banning bump stocks.  Rubio even went as far to say that he was open to discussing gun–violence restraining orders, a novel idea progressed by gun–control advocates that may begin debate in state legislatures.

[C]andles were left outside the Capitol to remind lawmakers that a senseless tragedy like Parkland can happen right here, in their own backyard. 

While the events in Parkland continue to draw national attention, they have also sparked movement within North Carolina as well.  Students from Wake County showed solidarity with the Parkland students by organizing a march to the State Capitol along Hillsborough Street in Raleigh.  Seventeen select students held 17 candles to represent the victims of the tragedy.  These candles were left outside the Capitol to remind lawmakers that a senseless tragedy like Parkland can happen right here, in their own backyard.  Another message was left for two particular North Carolina legislators.

Reverend Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church stated that U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and North Carolina Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger “can’t keep tweeting out prayers and condolences to gun violence victims while funding [their] political campaigns with NRA money.” Rev. Petty’s point regarding political contributions illuminates the dilemma of politicians who accept money from the NRA and then express their “thoughts and prayers” when gun tragedies such as Parkland occur.

A report found that Senator Tillis, a Republican with an A+ rating from the NRA, received $4.5 million in aid from the Second Amendment supporting organization.  Tillis has been praised by the group for his support of concealed carry laws, as well as his opposition to universal background checks.  The report also found that North Carolina Senator Richard Burr received $7 million from the NRA.  Senator Burr, who also has a perfect A+ rating, showed where his allegiance aligned when he declined to comment on whether or not gun control should be discussed in the aftermath of the tragedy. Burr reportedly stated, “I’ll wait until [investigators] come out with their full report.”

Despite the mix of responses, it does appear that NC will have some sort of movement on gun control issues in the aftermath of the devastation in Parkland.

Senator Burr is not the only NC politician with a lack of response.  WRAL News sent emails to many of NC’s congressional delegation and state leaders posing three questions:

  1. What must be done to limit and prevent mass shootings;
  2. What does the (state/federal) government need to do to limit and prevent mass shootings; and
  3. What are you personally doing to create solutions to this problem?

After 24 hours, most of these emails went without reply or were responded to via widely circulated press releases.  Despite the mix of responses, it does appear that NC will have some sort of movement on gun control issues in the aftermath of the devastation in Parkland.

NC Rep. Marcia Morey, a Democrat, has proposed state legislation that would grant North Carolina judges the ability to remove guns from dangerous individuals.  The “Gun Violence Restraining Order” would allow anyone who has first-hand knowledge of “someone in possession of” or “with access to” a firearm behaving in a threatening manner to petition a district court judge for an order that would authorize law enforcement to temporarily remove any weapons from that dangerous individual.

A hearing would then be held within 10 business days in which the judge would determine whether or not to bar the individual from owning firearms for a full year.  Rep. Morey’s proposal is not new; California, Washington, and Oregon adopted similar laws in 2014, 2016, and 2017, respectively.  Connecticut also drafted new gun laws that give law enforcement officers the authority to temporarily take away an individual’s gun if that person “makes threats, acts violently, abuses drugs, or commits animal cruelty.”  This particular measure was passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

[O]ne possibility the committee will address is arming teachers with firearms.

NC House Speaker Tim Moore announced he is forming a state legislative committee that will focus on developing recommendations on how to improve safety in NC schools.  Speaker Moore stated that one possibility the committee will address is arming teachers with firearms.  This measure falls in line with the “it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with one” rhetoric that continues to oppose stricter gun control measures.  In response to this proposal, many have noted that during the Parkland shooting, the armed resource officer on campus did not enter the school, despite  having actual knowledge that a shooting was ongoing.

NC Representative Larry Pittman, who is not a member of the new state committee, stated, “we have to get over this useless hysteria about guns and allow school personnel to have a chance to defend their lives and those of their students.”  This opinion is in stark contrast to some of those in the community like Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.  Ceartas believes there are possible solutions in exercising “common–sense gun laws,” as well as teaching parents to inform their children about the dangers of guns.

The tragic events at Marjory Stoneman High School are still fresh in the minds of the people of our nation.  While those in Parkland continue to pick up the pieces of their lives, we as fellow mourners and supporters continue will continue to provide aid in any way possible.  While we will inevitably continue to question why catastrophic events like this happen to the bright, young people in our world, we must also look to the resilience and courage that such tragedies inspire. Whether solutions can be found in providing more guns or less guns will remain a topic of debate;  Hopefully, our fellow Americans will take heed to our children’s cries and begin to offer more than just their “thoughts and prayers” in the coming months and years.

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About Tommy Harvey III (16 Articles)
Tommy Harvey III is a third year law student and serves as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. He is originally from Atlanta, GA and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Miami. Tommy has worked for the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, NC. His legal interests include Civil Rights Law, Constitutional Law, and International Law. Tommy is a member of the Campbell Law Trial Team, and serves as a peer mentor as well as the current Vice President and past Treasurer for the Campbell Law Black Law Students Association.