Today America will celebrate a tradition of love. Restaurants will be fully booked; movie theatres will be bustling; fresh flowers and foreign chocolates will sit on countertops, waiting to surprise millions of people, each of them considered someone’s most special person.
Many teenagers will use the day to send some of their very first love letters, purchasing roses in school lobbies across the country and writing messages to anonymously send to their first crushes, best friends or significant others.
I wonder how many of those teenage love notes went unread on 14 February 2018, when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 14 students and three teachers.
A year later, members of the Parkland community will have a much darker Valentine’s Day, instead placing floral arrangements in graveyards filled with too many 17-year-olds.
They are not alone.
Valentine’s Day marks one of the deadliest massacres in modern US history. Each year, an increasing number of our country’s citizens are visiting their children’s graves, instead of waving them off on their first dates. As we spend the day celebrating the people who shape our lives, our neighbours are mourning the ones who most impacted theirs. The juxtaposition could not be any more disturbing. Perhaps the most frightening part is that it’s a contradiction of our own making.
In the 12 months that followed the Parkland massacre, gun violence was responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,200 more American teens aged 18 and under. The majority of the country now lives in daily fear that a school shooting will occur within their own communities. And yet, nationwide, gun laws have remained mostly intact, as the urgency for new restrictions once again recedes. Whereas 71 per cent of the country supported stricter gun sale laws immediately after the Parkland shooting, that figure has dropped 20 per cent just one year later, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
At least 113 people were killed or injured in school shootings last year, with triggers being pulled inside schools every eight days according to the statistics. Based on those odds, another school will become a crime scene any day now. Will it occur today?
For the fathers, mothers, families, teachers, friends and classmates of America’s countless school shooting victims, one of the most frustrating and confounding thoughts is how preventable these deaths were.
Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter, Jaime Guttenberg, in the Parkland shooting, wrote in a moving piece today that, for his family, Valentine’s Day “will never again be about love.”
“Now, it’s the day our 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was a victim of a mass shooting,” he says. “I am forever haunted by my inability to remember if I told Jaime that I loved her as I rushed her off to school. I was too busy being a dad getting his two children out the door. I never imagined she would not come home.”
At a certain point, it’s no longer enough to cast blame on those who pull the trigger. It wasn’t enough when 20 schoolchildren were shot at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. It wasn’t enough when Delmonte Johnson, a 19-year-old gun violence activist with a bright future ahead of him, was killed in a seemingly random act of violence in the South Side of Chicago. And it certainly won’t be enough when the next American child dies from a bullet.
Those left standing after mass shootings have repeatedly called on our better angels to listen; to stop this from happening ever again; to make sure no other holiday is shared by a senseless and avoidable tragedy. Will we listen?
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