On a day when Americans collectively celebrate love, Valentine’s Day, 17 people, mostly children, lost their lives. Their loved ones are now without them. For the survivors of this mass murder in Parkland, Florida, forevermore will Valentine’s Day carry with it the memories of anguish and terror instead of love. This is too close to home for me. It continuefas happening too close to home for all of us, yet there is no end in sight.
What will it take for us to begin seriously confronting gun violence? Will it take each of us losing a loved one and receiving thoughts and prayers and nothing else?
We as a nation cannot continue to allow this to be the accepted response to children being slaughtered at school. I am sick of the cowardice of our elected officials. I am sick of the cowardice of our collective political discourse. This, the 41st mass shooting on American soil in just the first two months of 2018, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, occurred on the 45th day of the year. There were 427 mass shootings in 2017 and 477 in 2016 and, as of Valentine’s Day, since 2013 there had been 1,979 mass shootings on American soil. (In the two weeks since the Parkland shooting, there have been six more.)
In the last five years, mass shootings have claimed at least 2,576 lives and injured 7,677 people. That’s 10,253 lives directly affected, which doesn’t account for victims’ families and friends, nor victims of gun violence not classified as mass shootings.
In five years, we’ve had 1,979 instances of ‘thoughts and prayers’ and nothing else.
This has to end at some point, but when?
When will we collectively say enough is enough? When will we begin protecting innocents? When will we finally put this chapter of American history behind us?
I am sick of the hypocrisy of politicians. That night, I heard Governor Rick Scott say, “The first thing you ever think about is, ‘God, I hope this never happens to my family.’ Then, you think about, you’re furious. How could this ever happen in this state? This is a state that is focused on keeping our children safe. You come to the conclusion that this is just absolutely pure evil.”
Saying that this was an act of evil takes agency from the young, broken man who planned and executed a heinous mass murder. This young man was once a baby, free from sin and anguish. Something went wrong in his life, in his mind, that led him to commit this atrocity. Something went wrong in the lives of all the broken men who have acted out on wicked impulses and taken innocent lives.
Each time there’s an abhorrent mass murder, our politicians don’t want to talk about guns, but mental health. The Columbine mass murder occurred when I was in middle school. We will reach the 20th anniversary of that traumatic event next year, yet nothing meaningful has been done nationally to address the deterioration of our society. If politicians are so certain that guns aren’t the problem, that mental illness is driving the gun violence epidemic, then why haven’t they created a national program to address growing mental health issues in our country?
Why do they continue to send their ‘thoughts and prayers’ and nothing else?
After Gov. Scott spoke, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi assured us that she was working with GoFundMe to ensure no one uses this tragedy to crowdfund illegitimately and local funeral homes weren’t overcharging victims’ families. While I’m glad that someone is working to stop despicable people from profiting from this carnage, these were not my primary, secondary nor tertiary concern.
Who is working to stop gun manufacturers from profiting from these tragedies? Who’s working to stop the NRA from using them
Most important, who’s working to stop the next mass murder?
Thoughts and prayers. That’s all the effort our elected officials can muster.
Perhaps we should just start praying it forward. Perhaps we should send our thoughts and prayers to the future for the next 2,500 people who lose their lives to senseless mass murder, because there is no end in sight. Perhaps our thoughts and prayers can be sent to those broken people who will terrorize our nation in years to come, in an attempt to heal them before it’s too late.
We grew up being told we live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Yet I see no bravery in elected officials. I see a government awash with craven men and women who care first and foremost about their careers. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that “Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.” I don’t believe my fellow Floridians sent him to Congress to pray on our behalf. I don’t believe my fellow Floridians elected any of our representatives to pray on our behalf.
If thoughts and prayers are all elected officials can muster, I believe it’s time we bring them all home and keep them in our thoughts and prayers as they look for new careers.
I refuse to stand idle as children are slaughtered indiscriminately time and again with no meaningful action taken afterward. That’s why I have decided to run to represent District 11 in the Florida House of Representatives.
We need to have a robust debate that includes teachers, students, parents, law enforcement officials, gun owners, Republicans and Democrats, and citizens from all walks of life to properly address this issue. We need to find common ground and make a plan of action to finally address the scourge of gun violence plaguing our communities.
There are many steps we can take as a state to reduce the likelihood of another massacre like this happening. We need to develop a culture of gun safety by establishing mandatory training and licensing of firearms. We need to consider expanding the three-day waiting period to all gun purchases, not just handguns. We need universal background checks on gun purchases. We need to bar domestic abusers and stalkers from purchasing guns.
However, simply passing laws regarding guns won’t fix the underlying problems. We need to increase funding for counseling in schools. We need to begin targeting troubled children and families using state resources to help them. Today’s criminals were once children full of potential. If we can’t commit additional resources for children now, we’re condemning ourselves to waste resources housing them in detention centers and jails in the future.
It will take years. It will be difficult. But we cannot shy away from taking action because the problem seems unsolvable. We cannot continue to allow the NRA to control the conversation and the situation and the legislation. We in the Sunshine State can be an example for the rest of the nation of what is possible when we stop fighting along partisan lines and work together as fellow Americans.
Let’s embrace Florida’s future, rather than try to turn back the clock to some mythologized past when the world was a better place. This is the best time to be alive and it will continue getting better, but only if we are willing to have difficult conversations and address the problems we face together.
Rohrbaugh, a candidate for House District 11, has lived in Northeast Florida for 30 years.
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