February 14, 2018 is a day marked by the death of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It is the deadliest mass high school shooting in U.S. history, surpassing the death toll from the infamous 1999 Columbine shooting.
Nikolas cruz, then 19, was arrested for the murders and is currently on trial. On March 13, the office of Michael J. Satz, the Broward County State Attorney, filed a notice of its intention to seek the death sentence in the case of Cruz.
A new sentencing law established by the state in 2017 requires unanimous jury recommendation for a judge to hand down the death penalty.
“When the Parkland shooting happened, I was at work,” said Alisa Gonzalez, chair of the university section of Students Demand Action (SDA). Gonzalez described where she was on the day of the massacre, explaining that at the time she was working at a daycare. “The day ended pretty early because a lot of parents came and started picking up their children.”
Shortly after the events of Stoneman Douglas, the academic chapter of SDA was started by Gonzalez in partnership with Moms ask for action (MDA) and Everytown for gun safety (ETG). As described by Gonzalez, “[SDA is] a bit like the baby of the two. The national organization currently has more than 400 groups across the country.
In 2018, the State of Florida declared 2,902 gun deaths and, according to research by ETG, an average of 2,660 people are killed by guns in Florida every year.
“How are we going to end this?” SDA group member Raya Levine asked. “How are we going to solve this problem? “
The group also works to help students forge connections between Second Amendment supporters and those seeking to reform gun ownership laws.
“Personally, and I’m not going to speak on behalf of the organization as a whole, but personally, I believe in the Second Amendment,” Gonzalez said. “I believe in this amendment but I also believe that [America has] an epidemic of gun violence, and we really need to address it. “
Gonzalez launched SDA Online in August 2020 after hearing about the organization from a friend. The organization recently began meeting in person this semester following the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols.
“I think what’s important is gun safety and that’s the part that is sometimes missing in the conversation,” Gonzalez said. “[Some gun owners] just think we take their guns, but we really want safer use of guns.
In an effort to curb the growth of gun violence in the United States, the SDA advocates for education and legislation by appealing to both government officials and individuals.
“I think people are sometimes confused about what we’re doing,” Levine said. “Education is one of the most important things we can do. Teach people how to safely store guns, especially with children in the home. “
According to a to study published by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2017, more than 1,200 children die from gunshot wounds each year.
To better facilitate their mission, the organization is also lobbying lawmakers across the country to pass what they call “gun meaning” laws.
“We encourage our members to register to vote and our president Alisa has worked hard and met with leaders,” said Krissa De Vera, group membership and outreach manager. “Student Demand members also help demand accountability and real change as our lives depend on it; gun violence has been such a big and widespread problem for students like us. “
On October 20, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first degree murder as well as 17 subsidiary counts of attempted murder. After the plea, Judge Elizabeth Scherer allowed Cruz to make a declaration where he addressed the families of his victims.
“I’m sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” said Cruz. “If I had to get a second chance I would do everything in my power to try to help others and I do it for you and I don’t care if you don’t believe me and I love you and I know that you don’t. do not believe me.
During his brief statement, Cruz also expressed his disapproval of drugs, racism and his struggle to keep calm.
“I hope you will give me a chance to try and help others,” Cruz told judge Elizabeth Scherer. “I believe it’s your decision to decide where I go, whether I live or die, not the jury’s decision, I believe it’s your decision. I am sorry.”
Asked about the recent declaration and the guilty plea submitted by Cruz in the context of the current trial, the members of the SDA expressed their disbelief.
“Regarding his statements, I think they were extremely disrespectful and callous,” Gonzalez said. “Hearing him say I love you to the parents of the children he killed was like, I mean, when I heard my heart had just fallen.”
De Vera believes that the families of the victims should be the center of attention in the weeks and months to come.
“Attention must be focused on the families of these survivors,” said De Vera. “SDA at each meeting provides multiple resources that students can use for those affected, and we stress the importance of CAPS on campus which is free therapy.
Non-members wishing to join FAU requesting students can follow the group on Instagram @studentsdemandfau or join their group discussion.
Caroline Little is a writer for University Press. For more information on this story or others, email him at [email protected]