A dangerous reality: community reactions to living in an era of mass shootings

On February 14 in Parkland, FL, an average school day was disrupted when a former student, Nikolas Cruz, walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, shooting and killing 17 people and injuring another 14.

In the weeks following the shooting, students from MSD have helped to inspire and organize a rise in student leadership across the country, leading a call to action to help prevent devastating actions like this from ever happening again.

The response at ARHS has included organized classroom talks, after-school activities, and a student-led walkout.

On March 14, ARHS students participated in the nationwide walkout to remember those who were lost to gun violence.

While the whole school community was invited to gather outside for a solemn 17-minute remembrance, some students continued on into town to speak out against gun violence.

On an individual level, the responses were varied and complex.

“I felt like the bottom dropped out of my gut,” said ARHS math teacher Alexander Lariviere-Werner.

English teacher Kristen Iverson said she felt “incredible sadness and devastation, but sadly [I was] not surprised.”

According to Amina Torres, an ARHS senior, the event has left her with a feeling of uncertainty.

“I feel a little scared to be in school,” said Torres, adding that there should be tighter restrictions for acquiring high-powered firearms and that “there should also be more regulations to get a gun in general.”

In response to the event, ARHS Principal Mark Jackson sent a letter home that highlighted the preventative measures ARHS has taken, including recognizing warning signs, threat assessment protocols, and anti-bullying measures.

The school has practiced emergency response drills to prepare for anything from a hurricane to an intruder.

In addition, all faculty computers are equipped with an app that allows direct communication with Amherst Police.

Within the past couple of years, classroom doors have been fitted to lock from the inside and shades were installed in the hallway facing classrooms.

Even with these steps, students are acknowledging that just coming to school can feel very different.

“I definitely feel different about the safeties at school due to how frequently the shootings have been occurring, and how it could happen literally anywhere,” said senior Rua’a Wahhas. “I’d like to see legislative action done to avoid such preventable incidents.”

Along with developing “intelligent gun control,” Ms. Iverson believes that people should take the time to connect with each other and make a stronger sense of community.

Mr. Lariviere-Werner suggests that part of this coming together could be learning more together as well.

“If this issue is tied to the Second Amendment in some way, I’m not sure that everyone is really clear on exactly how and I think that’s part of the problem,” he said.

Wahhas shared a similar idea, rooted in misinterpretations by Americans.

“I personally see the Constitution as something that should evolve and change with our current time, and something clearly needs to be changed based on recent events,” she said.

As a student leader involved in the ARHS walkout at the beginning of March, Torres was inspired by student activism.

“It’s amazing and necessary that students are leading protests and walkouts,” she said. “The generations before us don’t take us seriously and think we can’t do anything about what’s going on, but that’s not true at all. We’re done waiting. We want a change for the better right now.”