Students Demand Action reflects on gun violence as Parkland trial moves forward

Group members advocate for pressuring legislators and educating others on gun violence.

Image courtesy of Students Demand Action

Image courtesy of Students Demand Action

Caroline Little, Contributing Writer

Feb. 14, 2018 is a day marked by the deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It is the deadliest mass shooting event to take place in a high school in the history of the United States, surpassing the death toll of the infamous 1999 Columbine shooting.

Nikolas Cruz, then 19-years-old, was arrested for the murders and is currently on trial. On March 13, the office of Michael J. Satz, Broward County State Attorney, filed a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty in Cruz’s case. 

A new sentencing law established by the state in 2017 requires a unanimous jury recommendation for a judge to impose the death penalty.

“When the Parkland shooting happened, I was at work,” said Alisa Gonzalez, the president of the university chapter 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 kids.”

Shortly after the events at Stoneman Douglas, the university chapter of SDA was started by Gonzalez in partnership with Moms Demand Action (MDA) and Everytown For Gun Safety (ETG). As described by Gonzalez, “[SDA is] just kind of like the baby of the two.” The national organization currently has more than 400 groups across the country.

In 2018, the state of Florida reported 2,902 firearm deaths and, according to research done by ETG, an average of 2,660 people are killed by guns in Florida each year.

 “How are we going to put a stop to this?” asked SDA group member Raya Levine. “How are we going to fix this?”

The group also works to help students forge connections between supporters of the second amendment and those seeking to reform gun ownership laws. 

“I personally, and I’m not going to speak for the organization as a whole, but myself personally I believe in the second amendment,” said Gonzalez. “I believe in this amendment but I also believe that [America has] a gun violence epidemic, and we really need to fix it.”

Gonzalez started SDA online in Aug. 2020 after learning about the organization from a friend. The organization recently began meeting in person this semester following the easing of COVID-19 protocols. 

“I think what’s important is gun safety and that’s the part that is missed in the conversation sometimes,” said Gonzalez. “[Some gun owners] just think we’re taking their guns, but really we want safer gun use.”

In an effort to curb the growth of gun violence in the U.S., SDA advocates for education and legislation by calling on government officials and private citizens alike. 

“I think people sometimes get confused on what we do,” said Levine. “Education is one of the biggest things that we can do. Teaching people how to safely store guns, especially with children in the home.”

According to a study published by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2017, more than 1,200 children die each year from gunshot wounds.

In order to better facilitate their mission, the organization also promotes pressuring legislators across the nation to pass what they call “gun sense” laws. 

“We encourage our members to register to vote and our president Alisa has been working hard and meeting with officials,” said Krissa De Vera, the group’s membership and outreach lead. “Students Demand members also help demand accountability and real change as our lives depend on it; gun violence has been such a prominent and prevalent issue for students like us.”

On Oct. 20, Cruz pled guilty to all 17 charges of first-degree murder as well as 17 subsidiary charges of attempted murder. After the plea, Judge Elizabeth Scherer allowed Cruz to make a statement where he addressed the families of his victims.

“I am sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” Cruz said. “If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others and I am doing this for you and I do not care if you do not believe me and I love you and I know you don’t believe me.” 

During his brief statement, Cruz also expressed his disapproval of drugs, racism, and his struggle to maintain his composure. 

“I hope you give me a chance to try to help others,” Cruz said to Judge Elizabeth Scherer. “I believe it’s your decision to decide where I go, whether I live or die, not the jury’s, I believe it’s your decision. I’m sorry.”

When questioned about the recent statement and guilty plea submitted by Cruz as part of the ongoing trial, the members of SDA voiced their disbelief. 

“As far as his statements go, I think they were extremely disrespectful and insensitive,” said Gonzalez. “Hearing him say I love you to the parents of the children he killed was just like, I mean, when I heard that my heart just dropped.”

De Vera believes that victims’ families should be front of mind in the weeks and months to come.

“The attention should be on the families of these survivors,” De Vera said. “SDA in every meeting provides multiple resources that students can use for those affected, and we emphasize the importance of CAPS on campus which is free therapy.”

Non-members seeking to join Students Demand FAU can follow the group on Instagram @studentsdemandfau or join their group chat

Caroline Little is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories email her at [email protected]