Though the U.S. has experienced a number of mass shootings in the past few years, none have had as strong an impact on legislation, activism, or public discourse as the one that occurred last month at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
In response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting, President Trump has promised to ban bump stocks. He has also drawn attention with his suggestion that schools need “armed educators” to protect against such attacks in the future.
Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that, while not equipping teachers with guns, allows school districts to arm coaches, counselors, and librarians. The bill also adds a three-day wait period to the purchase of firearms, raises the minimum buyer age to 21, and bans bump stocks.
The shooting has also been a galvanizing force among young people.
Students from Stoneman Douglas High launched the Never Again movement, urging lawmakers to set stricter background checks for gun buyers. Thousands of young men and women marched on Florida’s capitol, and other groups have planned a number of walkouts in solidarity. One hundred of Stoneman Douglas’ students even met with members of Florida’s state legislature to present their case for gun control.
Trump’s suggestion has not set well with them. Emma Gonzalez, one of the Stoneman Douglas students at the forefront of the movement, wrote an essay about her mission for gun law reform, in which she gave her response.
“Teachers do not need to be armed with guns to protect their classes, they need to be armed with a solid education in order to teach their classes. That’s the only thing that needs to be in their job description,” Gonzalez wrote. “People say metal detectors would help. Tell that to the kids who already have metal detectors at school and are still.”
Darren Levine, one of Stoneman Douglas’ teachers, has called the idea of arming teachers asinine and believes that it is a distraction from the question of whether or not assault rifles like the one used in the attack should be banned.
Teacher and Democratic candidate for Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District seat Gwen Combs also responded to the shooting and the concept of armed educators.
“I support the 2nd Amendment. My husband and my mom are both gun owners, as are other members of my family. I also wholeheartedly believe that lives and safety are the highest priority, and that we must pass policy to prevent gun violence,” Combs told the Forum. “As a teacher and candidate, I believe arming teachers is a dangerous idea. Doing so would increase the risk of children being caught in crossfire and would complicate SWAT team response in active shooter scenarios. Guns are inherently dangerous, and increasing their numbers anywhere increases the likelihood of injury or worse.”
The question remains: how will the Stoneman Douglas shooting and the debate it inspired impact Arkansas? The state is not new to the debate on gun control, with recent legislation like HB 1249 that allows concealed carry of guns on public university campuses, as well as an initiative in the Clarksville School District to train teachers and other staff as armed, commissioned security guards.
All that is certain is this time, things seem to be a bit different.