'Yesterday, I Hid in a Closet': Teen Survivors of Florida Shooting Call for Reform

Students who spent yesterday hiding from a gunman armed with an AR-15 he purchased legally say this is the exact right time to talk about gun control.

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Feb 15 2018, 7:18pm

Photo by Giorgio Viera via EPA

On Wednesday, following a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed at least 17 people and injured another 14, Republican politicians and pundits began to trot out the same feeble calls for “thoughts and prayers” that have become customary after mass shootings in the United States. Some, like Tomi Lahren, went as far as to issue the same tone-deaf admonitions to "not politicize a tragedy" by talking about the need for gun control.

Many surviving students and their families feel differently about the need for an urgent conversation about gun violence in this country. On social media, they’ve started speaking out directly, calling out the politicians who have allowed these acts of violence to kill their loved ones and keep them in fear. The time for change, they say, is long past.

"Hearing [the shooter] fire so quickly and hearing distant screams from the building over from me was surreal," said Sara Giovanello, a seventeen-year-old junior who survived the attack on Wednesday. "We need to make America safe again. That’s it. Semi-automatic weapons should not be attainable to an ordinary citizen, and the fact that I even need to say that is haunting."

"Something has to change," said Carly Novell, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High who spent two hours huddled in a closet with her classmates during the attack. "This keeps happening over and over and over. [Politicians] say they’re praying, but that doesn’t change anything because people keep dying."

On Thursday morning, Novell tweeted a response to Tomi Lahren, who’d accused "the Left" of being insensitive and pushing an "anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda" at the expense of grieving families. "You weren't there, you don't know how it felt," Novell wrote. "Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns, and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns."

“Semi-automatic weapons should not be attainable to an ordinary citizen, and the fact that I even need to say that is haunting.”

A 1949 mass shooting that left 13 people dead is widely considered to have been the first in the country. Today, there is a school shooting on US soil every 60 hours. This long legacy of preventable violence is something Novell’s family has experienced on a personal level: "My grandpa—his family was killed in Camden, New Jersey, during the first mass shooting in America, while he hid in a closet," she told Broadly. "Yesterday, I hid in a closet, too. This is happening to all of us, and it won’t stop if things won’t change."

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High teachers and administrators have also started to publicly call for effective gun control policy. "Now is the time to have a real conversation about gun control legislation," Broward County Schools Superintendent Rob Runcie said in a statement. In an interview with MSBNC, Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at the high school, discussed the extensive preparations school administrators had taken to prepare students for an attack: "We talked to every single class period that sat in front of us about what to do in this situation," she said. "Even with that we still have seventeen casualties, seventeen people who won’t return to their families, and to me that is totally unacceptable."

"From my personal viewpoint it’s time for Congress, the government, somebody to do something, and it’s time to talk about what the problem is and to try to fix it," she added.

On Thursday, Senate leaders held a moment of silence for victims of the shooting, according to CNN—but "there was no plan as of Thursday morning by Republicans who control Congress to take any legislative action." And several gun control measures introduced in the past year, in the aftermath of a Las Vegas shooting that left 58 dead and over 800 injured, remain stalled.

"I don’t understand how [Congress] can keep saying sorry about the people that have been killed without changing the laws or even talking about the fact that guns are dangerous," said Novell. "The right to bear arms is not as important as staying alive and not being afraid for your safety."