Las Vegas Sun

December 15, 2018

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What happened in Parkland hits home in Las Vegas

It has been almost three weeks since a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and opened fire on his former classmates, killing 17. In that time, the Sun has received dozens of editorial submissions from readers. Some defend the Second Amendment, others make their case for gun control legislation, and still more react to President Donald Trump’s call to arm teachers as a possible solution to the ongoing crisis of mass shootings in America, the most deadly of which struck Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

In that time, we have published several letters from readers responding to the incident, and more continue to pour in. Here is a collection of your thoughts on the Parkland shooting and the gun control debate, including a submission from UNLV student Karl Catarata, himself a survivor of gun violence.

We will continue to run more letters on this topic as they come in.

Students have had enough of shootings

This year, Feb. 14 was both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. There were people in Las Vegas with ashes on their foreheads, families in their hearts, and roses and gifts for loved ones in their hands. But love on Feb. 14 was overshadowed by a devastating tragedy that the world now knows as the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

That afternoon students in Parkland, Fla., faced the unthinkable: gunshots ringing through the halls of their peaceful campus, classmates ducking under desks, loved ones texting each other goodbye and friends dying before their eyes. The shooter murdered 17 people, tearing apart the lives of their families and friends. It was one of the deadliest school massacres ever, taking even more lives than the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. Americans went to bed even more deeply disturbed about the state of gun violence in our country, recognizing that the last school shooting occurred just nine days prior at a Maryland high school.

And just like that, a student-led movement for change was born. Students like Cameron Kasky formed advocacy groups, such as NeverAgainMSD, which advocates for gun reform and tells the stories of the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Survivors also have mobilized to build and create a brand-name movement called March For Our Lives. On March 24, these student activists will march on Washington, D.C., along with thousands of other protesters in cities across the country, to rally for gun reform legislation.

These brave survivors and student activists are unafraid to step up and make a change in their country. But what happened in Parkland also hits home in Las Vegas, and speaks to the power of student activism to transform our country.

Just a few months ago, Las Vegas faced one of the worst shootings in U.S. history, leaving 58 dead and 851 injured at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. On the night of the shooting, I had left the Strip area and headed home, only to be greeted by a bombardment of tweets and text messages asking if I was OK. After learning about the attack, I was shaken. As a survivor of gun violence — having lived through the 2014 shootings in Las Vegas that left five dead — I know that the issue isn’t about one person or even a group of people. Instead, it all comes down to one thing: guns.

Across the nation, we’ve seen so many lives taken by gun violence. In the first two months of this year, we’ve seen eight school shootings and, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, there have been 48 mass shootings claiming nearly 100 lives. We’ve seen the damage that guns inflict on our society, yet America’s corrupt, power-hungry gun lobby continues to use its influence to maintain the status quo.

Thankfully, my generation isn’t buying it. At least 80 percent of millennials and Generation Z’ers believe our country has a deep problem with gun violence. This problem isn’t just in our schools, but also within communities of color and low-income communities, where residents often fall victim to heartbreaking levels of gun violence in their neighborhoods. Young people are also angry because adults aren’t doing anything about the problem. That’s why it’s up to us to make change in our communities.

Young people have been busy since Feb. 14. We no longer need our legislators’ thoughts and prayers, especially in Las Vegas. Along with mobilization efforts across the country, Women’s March National is hosting a #NationalWalkOutDay. On March 14 at 10 a.m., we’ll walk out of our classrooms for 17 minutes to protest Congress’ inaction. Here in Las Vegas, there are at least 11 student-led actions at local high schools and colleges, and students, parents and even administrators are expected to show up in the hundreds. I’ve had the opportunity to organize UNLV’s #NationalSchoolWalkOut with other student activists, as we plan to rally at the UNLV Free Speech Zone to demand our legislators take action.

If Congress refuses to take action to resolve our national crisis of gun violence, we must take it on ourselves. What happened in Parkland and Las Vegas is not acceptable. We’re hitting the streets to protest across the country to say enough is enough.

— Karl Catarata, Las Vegas

In other nations, this is unacceptable

We were struck by Germany’s response to school massacres in 2002 and 2009. The Germans see gun ownership as a privilege rather than as a constitutional right. They imposed laws that, among other things, require those applying for gun licenses to wait a year, undergo reliability checks, and pass specialized knowledge tests. Officials make visits to homes of licensed gun owners to assure weapons are properly stored.

Germany, population 82.7 million, had 61 gun homicides in 2012. If the rates of gun homicides in Germany and the United States, population 323 million, were similar, we would expect about 250 fatal shootings in our country. Instead, there were 8,855 firearm-related homicides in the U.S. in 2012.

Gun proponents might say having the weapons allows them to protect against becoming victims of violence. That argument might be called reasonable in America, but not in many other countries that reject licensing guns for the purpose of self-defense.

Perhaps one way to start a meaningful discussion would be by focusing attention more of the victims and humanizing the loss. What are their stories? How do their deaths affect survivors and communities? Perhaps hearing more about our slain fellow citizens would engender empathy and a willingness to negotiate common sense reforms.

— Hubert Housen, Las Vegas, and Patricia Housen, Los Angeles

First, get rid of government’s guns

As usual, gun control advocates miss the point.The only way people can retain power over our rulers is to retain the right to be as well armed as our rulers.

Just like they say no one needs high-capacity, semiautomatic weapons, neither does our government need them (except the military). Virtually every armed government agent carries a high-capacity, semiautomatic weapon.

If we really want to change our gun mentality, the first people to have these weapons taken away should be the government. As long as our rulers set the example of solving problems with high-capacity, semiautomatic weapons, our children will copy them. To think the government is more responsible with these types of weapons is to ignore reality.

Peter Rouches, Las Vegas

Re-evaluation of priorities is in order

Our nation is in crisis. No nation on earth that is not at war has ever suffered as many school shootings in a year as we have just during the first 1 1/2 months of 2018. And it is getting worse with time. Violence is celebrated and weapons of mass destruction are far too easy to obtain. Our children are getting the wrong message that the only way to solve problems is with a gun. This cannot be allowed continue. One first step would be to better regulate access to weapons such as the AR-15, so mentally unstable, angry and immature people such as Nikolas Cruz go though more stringent background checks to prevent these dangerous individuals from acquiring them. Troubled youths need to be helped by certified mental health experts, not shunned and ignored.

The AR-15 is a weapon for the battlefield, not for civilized society. Restricting the AR-15 and other weapons of mass slaughter is not about the constitutional right to defend oneself but the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from those who would do all of us harm.

It is tragic that we are so actively engaged in fighting so many costly “wars on terrorism” all over the world in faraway places but always seem to come up short when it comes to stopping terrorism on the homefront. Apparently, the FBI has been so obsessively consumed in its desperate effort to blame the Russians for Hillary Clinton’s election loss that it wasn’t able to properly investigate and stop a lone former student who openly admitted his desire to shoot up his former school.

We need a major overhaul of the FBI and other security agencies. They’re just not serving ordinary Americans, and they aren’t making our beleaguered nation any safer. We must refocus our priorities.

Dr. Michael Pravica, Las Vegas

Teachers aren’t trained for this

I worked in law enforcement for most of my adult life and during my employment as a deputy sheriff, only one time did I engage in a shooting with a felony suspect. In the aftermath of my encounter, I experienced a very strange response both physically and mentally. My first and most lasting recollection was that the scene in front of me slowed down and appeared, or at least my memory of it, in grayscale, like an old black-and-white movie. The other thing that happened was that I fired about five rounds from my semi-automatic pistol and yet don’t remember hearing any sound of the gun firing.

I learned later that such experiences were normal. Through all this stress-related distraction, I was able to perform the way I was trained. The operative word here is trained — as I had, for all of my career, faithfully attended training on the shooting range, four to eight hours every three months.

Now, some politicians are suggesting that school teachers take up arms and risk their lives in the event of an active shooter situation. Have we thought this through? Or is this just a knee-jerk response?

I wonder if anybody thought about the very real consequences of arming teachers. Will those teachers also have dedicated radios to communicate with other teachers who may also be armed? How will the police know which teachers are armed so they don’t shoot the armed teacher? Will armed teachers be trained in firearm use, tactics and policy? If so, how often? Do we need to be concerned about teachers shooting other armed teachers and/or students? This is serious business even for full-time trained law enforcement officers, and the cost to arm and train teachers would be exceedingly expensive.

Will armed teachers demand higher pay? Who will pay for the costs of training this perishable skill? Keep in mind that the vast majority of schools will never experience an active shooter. Teachers will go their entire career without any probability of being in a situation where they will need to use their firearm. What are the liability issues and cost if a teacher is killed while performing law enforcement duties? Who will care for their families? What happens if a teacher gets careless and leaves his or her weapon where a kid might have access to it?

For me there is not much to like about arming teachers, and I’m afraid that the juice won’t be worth the squeeze.

James Sida, Henderson

Trump channels Archie Bunker

For those born in the 1970s or later, let me tell you about the No. 1 TV show for five years — “All in the Family.” This show chronicled the fictional lives of Archie Bunker and his family. Those of us who remember the show find ourselves rolling in our lazy-boys when we watch Trump act – and think – like Archie, the dimmest, dumbest working-class head of household you ever saw, stuck dead center in the 1940s and a card-carrying Christian white supremacist.

In season 3, Archie’s ultra-liberal son-in-law gets on a TV show’s “express your opinion” segment and extols the urgent need for gun control. Archie watches this and an insane debate ensues. Archie decides to rebut the editorial. The TV people listen to him and decide to put him on for laughs. Archie, with too much makeup and a deer-in-the-headlights stare, makes his case. The last thing he says is that the way to prevent airplane hijackings is to arm the passengers with guns, because “no hijacker is goin’ to up against all those guns.”

Now, President Donald Trump offered the same idea for the teachers. If you think this is a good idea, you should never be allowed to buy a gun.

Jim Cassidy, Henderson

Officer being unfairly vilified

I cannot believe the way people are treating the police officer who did not enter the school in Florida. Did they really want him to be killed?

To enter into an unknown situation — a building with an armed person or persons shooting — with no backup would have been foolish.

He probably didn’t know how many shooters were in there, and what if he would have shot the wrong person?

If he was killed, the people calling him a coward would be asking why he entered with no backup. These officers put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniforms. The only way to stop these losses is to get these weapons off the street.

Gary McCartin, Henderson

Doubt will prevent criminal activity

The idea behind arming nonsecurity people is based on creating doubt in the mind of the criminal. By making schools hard targets vs. the current soft target, you protect by making it not worth the criminal’s effort. The FBI has preached this for 40 years.

John Williams, Vancouver, Wash.

Put NRA’s spending in perspective

I read with some interest the Feb. 23 article “Guns and Money” about spending by the National Rifle Association. It noted that the NRA has contributed more than $203 million the past 20 years, or about $10 million a year. It also provided a complete list of members of Congress who have received contributions. I look forward to future investigative reporting with the same zeal on the following groups: SEIU, Planned Parenthood, the teachers union, etc. It will be informative to read how the contributions are divided by political parties.

SG Foulds, Henderson

President’s boast doesn’t ring true

I feel comforted to know that President Donald Trump says he would have rushed in to help at Stoneman Douglas High School, even without the benefit of a weapon. Incredible courage from our Dear Leader, and this from a man who had five medical deferments for suffering with bad feet, allowing him to escape military duty during the Vietnam War. Based on his history, I tend to think his aching feet may have carried him in the opposite direction.

None of us truly knows what we would do in such a situation. We can only hope we would act with courage. Verbally bellicose bullies like Trump are usually defined by their words and never by courageous actions.

I feel as if I’m in the midst of a bad dream. I’ve voted Republican and I’ve voted Democrat, and I’ve been pleased or displeased with the performance of past presidents, but Trump has taken us to a new low. I look forward to the day that his bad feet take him out of the Oval Office. Hopefully in the next election.

Jerry Foreman, Las Vegas