Joseph Gruber
High school students from across the D.C. area protest in favor of gun reform in front of the White House on Feb. 19. (Joseph Gruber)

My name is Sari Kaufman and I attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I am a sophomore and a survivor of the 2/14 massacre. I am writing this to honor my friends who are not here with us today to share their story and to ask politicians for a change.

The morning of the attack seemed like a normal day. It was a typical warm and sunny Florida morning and I was excited to receive carnations for Valentine’s Day.

Sadly, this all changed at the sound of an unexpected fire drill. I remember leaving my classroom at 2:22 p.m. Once I went outside, I heard five distinct sounds that each went pop. I thought they were gunshots but my mind refused to accept the fact that indeed they were shots I would later find out caused 17 beautiful lives to be lost.

My memory from this day is a blur, but what stands out in my mind is my teacher calmly announcing this is not a drill. As I received text messages from my friends, I learned students and teachers were dying in their classrooms. I realized the seriousness of the situation and my friends and I began running for our lives. There was so much chaos and confusion; we did not know what was happening. I remember feeling relieved when a police officer appeared on the opposite side of the fence and reassured us that he was there to protect us. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 10 minutes, I was able to run to a nearby restaurant and watch the unthinkable news story develop.

My heart broke when I discovered that my 5th period teacher and class were subjected to the terror of that day. My city and school will be forever changed and even some of my closest friends are forever changed due to this traumatizing event that has affected them, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I have gone to more funerals in a week than many adults have gone to in a lifetime. I have had to watch parents bury their 14-year-old sons and daughters.

Following the attack, I wanted to talk to the news right away, but at the same time, I first wanted to understand the gun control debate a little more in-depth. Now, after a few days this traumatizing event is not feeling like a dream anymore. My school lost 17 people including coaches, teachers, administrators, and classmates. I am writing because I want to make a change.

I am part of the Stoneman Douglas debate program, and back in November I researched the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS, the gun database background check system) and universal background checks for the November Public Forum debate topic.  I remember finding many flaws in our system. For example, according to “The Trace” in 2015, the NICS Improvement Amendment Act was introduced in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. The legislation gave more than a billion dollars in grants to states and territories to improve record keeping systems and reporting to NICS. This seemed like a very common sense and great way to fix a robust system.

However, since the bill became law, Congress has given out only 11.5 percent of that money. Former Congressman James Moran, R-Kansas, explains the reason behind this. He says the NRA worked with allies in Congress to cut off funding for these grants when the committee put each year’s budget together. Unfortunately, this was a very common theme and each article I read, had a recurring conclusion. It is either that the proposed bill never passes Congress due to backlash from other funding parties, or in some cases, a bill passes but Congress does not put the money where it is supposed to go due to influential organizations like the NRA.

To our elected officials: do I think that my friends and I protesting for a change is going to significantly change your mind? No. But maybe real facts, research, and uniting politicians together to save lives at school, will lead to a change. Despite the fact that I am only 15 years old, I understand that politics are extremely complicated. I believe that we can fix these issues in our system so other kids do not have to go through the same trauma as I.

I hope the next time you and your colleagues receive money from influential organizations, you will not be persuaded to use poor judgment, resulting in more kids having their blood spilled out on classroom floors. Remember that your community and family might be next. Please do not wait to act on improving gun policies that ensure safety for America because our lives are not disposable. The massacre at my school needs to be the last school shooting.

There is so much we can accomplish in this revolution, even if it takes small steps. For example, after a 1998 shooting in Connecticut, lawmakers enacted an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) law. In Connecticut, the legislation refers to a “risk-warrant,” which gives law enforcement the clear legal authority to temporarily remove firearms from individuals when there is imminent risk of significant harm to self or others. Since then, there have been numerous mass shootings in different states that could have been prevented if this type of law was implemented. Furthermore, due to the Parkland shooter’s repetitive warning signs in his behavior, an extreme risk order most likely would have stopped him.

If politicians had enacted this legislation in all states when Connecticut did, we would not still be having the same discussion about “red flag” legislation 19 years later. Therefore, instead of just Connecticut and four other states having this policy, let’s implement laws that require every state to have a similar ERPO law like the one in Connecticut.

I want to be optimistic about these political changes, but the sad fact is that in my 15 years of existence, there have been more school shootings than someone who lived from 1910 to 1980. This is a repetitive pattern that has a very similar dialogue: “another shooting, let’s improve our system, and let’s unite and worry about the people on each side of the political aisle.” Following this, very little is ever accomplished.

Let’s do something about our flawed system. Children’s lives are more important than our political differences. Words are very different than actions. I want to believe in progress toward a positive solution, but the truth is, I am very worried that improvements will not be made. How is this generation going to have faith in our system if time and time again it fails to protect our lives? Every day in school we learn how great the United States is, yet we are one of the only countries in the world to have classmates die in the very place we learn.

This horrible tragedy should have been prevented by the adults who have been voted into power. I am just asking for a change to improve gun policies and to make our schools safer. Let’s take a step in the right direction. Our system needs to improve to save lives. We need to unite across political parties to protect my friends and future generations to be safe in school.

Sari Kaufman is a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

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