Students hiding in classrooms. Police officers surrounding a school with guns drawn. Parents racing to the scene, fearing the worst.
The national epidemic of mass shootings came home to South Florida on Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 14), when shots rang out at a high school in Parkland.
This time, the heartbreaking images of children on stretchers and others scurried to safety with arms raised were broadcast from a community we know.
The wailing ambulance sirens and flashing police lights headed toward a school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we trusted as a safe place to send our children.
As of Wednesday evening, there were 17 people — both students and adults — confirmed dead, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
This nightmare wasn’t happening in a faraway, someplace-else that we just learned about by turning on CNN. Now it was happening in one of our own towns — a commuter community like so many others, where life revolves around school schedules and weekend soccer tournaments.
And early amid the chaotic aftermath — even during the rush to help victims, the pursuit of the shooter, the beginnings of an investigation into motive — a depressingly pathetic question emerged again. A question this country, shooting after shooting, can’t or won’t bring itself to answer.
When is enough, enough?
So far, it hasn’t seemed to matter how many of us — not even our children — have to face injury or death because we fail to do more to prevent gun violence.
Soon after our country’s latest mass shooting, an expected avalanche of “thoughts and prayers” took aim at South Florida.
Anybody with a Facebook friend in Parkland all the way up to President Donald Trump tried to offer words of comfort to another community — our community — facing its turn with an all-too-familiar tragedy.
Yes, thoughts and prayers are a welcome response to anyone in mourning and in need.
But with this type of tragedy, repeated so many times across our country, we already know that thoughts and prayers alone are a grossly inadequate response to our country’s self-inflicted cancer of gun violence.
The horrors of school shootings, from Columbine High School in Colorado to Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, weren’t enough to persuade Congress to target weapons that make mass killings so easy.
Protecting gun lovers’ ability to buy assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines proved to be more convincing than the rising number of dead students.
Even requiring tougher background checks for people trying to buy guns wasn’t considered a political fight worth facing for elected leaders unwilling to defy the wishes of the National Rifle Association.
Outside of schools, the 2016 killing of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando wasn’t enough of a body county to prompt tougher limits on rapid-fire weapons or high-capacity magazines.
Last year, after a gunman in Las Vegas upped that death toll by mowing down 58 people in our nation’s deadliest mass shooting, Congress couldn’t be persuaded to outlaw “bump stocks” — the firearm accessory that enabled the continuous barrage of bullets to rain down on concertgoers.
The blame and failures reach far beyond the halls of Congress.
Florida lawmakers have shied away from passing tougher gun control laws. And in 2011, the Legislature even forced cities and counties to get rid of stricter, local gun-control measures.
During the ongoing legislative session, proposals are being considered to allow concealed weapons permit holders to bring guns to churches that include schools.
Lawmakers are even considering a measure to allow issuing concealed weapons permits before completing criminal background checks, which sometimes get slowed by delays verifying records.
Gun violence certainly isn’t new to South Florida, where shootings and deaths are a frequent occurrence.
But a mass shooting at a school — where we send our children to grow and learn and get ready for the challenges the world brings — is a nightmare we perhaps could have avoided.
In the days ahead, we will learn more about the shooter and the weapon or weapons used to inflict such devastation in such a short amount of time.
We may learn more about the motives that led to the shooting, and the missed opportunities to pick up on potential warning signs.
And we will likely learn more about the lives lost as well as the physical and emotional struggle toward recovery that so many more still face.
Amid the despair, we can also expect to be uplifted by stories from survivors of heroic acts that helped others live through the gunfire.
Then, perhaps most importantly, it will be up to us as a country to decide whether we will take action ourselves.
Take action to finally stop these mass shootings from becoming so routine that we sometimes just change the channel when reports of more deaths come from yet another town.
It’s not “politicizing” someone’s death to do something to try to prevent even more deaths.
Our elected leaders should act by using their political power to pass sensible gun control and beef up background checks. They should invest more in mental health programs that can help people before they lose control.
Voters should act by calling their elected leaders and telling them to get to work on solutions. And come Election Day, voters should make sure to get rid of those in office who refused to help.
Responsible gun owners need to speak out more against those who think the Second Amendment entitles them to amass an arsenal that can outgun a SWAT team.
Wednesday’s shooting will surely prompt prayer vigils and makeshift memorials — with candles, children’s photos and goodbye notes — as a cathartic response to help community healing begin.
But if our action ends there, with speeches and remembrances that fade over time, then we will have failed.
We will have failed those who died on Valentine’s Day in Parkland and failed those sure to die in shootings to come.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.
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