SALT LAKE CITY — Alyssa Alhadeff was buried Friday. The 14-year-old was described as a talented soccer player who enjoyed creative writing as a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Grief filled her funeral, but so did anger and frustration.
Joaquin Oliver was a senior at the high school. The New York Times described him this way: "People often spelled Joaquin Oliver’s first name wrong, so he went with a snappy nickname: Guac. He played basketball in the city recreational league — his jersey number was 2 — and he loved to write, filling a notebook with poetry."
He was buried Saturday.
Fifteen more funerals will take place in the next few days, the crushing result of a gunman's rampage in Parkland, wrecking families and now challenging a school community to recover.
Saturday there were signs that the challenge could be met by these young people, many of whom took to the streets in downtown Fort Lauderdale to shout their frustration and demand change. They are turning their terror into anger, and action, something lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and perhaps adults in general, have chosen not to do.
• After 20 children and six adults were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, in December 2012, the nation came together in horror and grief. Lawmakers considered proposals to make background checks universal and there were efforts to ban certain semiautomatic weapons. Ultimately the adults made no changes.
• After 58 people were killed at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and 851 injured (422 by gunfire) on Oct. 1 last year, there was widespread agreement that the so-called "bump stocks" that the gunman used to turn his rifle into an automatic weapon should be regulated. Even the National Rifle Association didn't oppose that. But Congress failed to take unilateral action, claiming it's the domain of The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It has called for a study and has dragged its feet on action.
• After 26 people were gunned down at a small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a month later, attention focused on the military-style rifle the gunman used to inflict the carnage. The gunman should not have been able to legally buy a gun because he was convicted of domestic violence against his wife and daughter. But the Air Force failed to enter his name into a federal database.
Those at schools, churches and public gathering places have been victims of senseless shootings. Both children and adults are killed. Why does the nation wait for change? Do we not know what to do or how to do it? Are there obstacles that have yet to be identified and overcome?
Inside the newsroom this week, Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson and I discussed just what it will take to make something happen, and what role media could play. Boyd took his ideas to the nation's airwaves, speaking on cable outlets about the need for change.
Here's what he had to say:
"As a society we must get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about guns, gun control and gun safety, along with crucial conversations about anxiety, depression and mental health.
"We cannot look to a dysfunctional Washington to solve these mass shootings. Congress’ obsession with solving their own political problems has made them incapable of leading elevated dialogue to solve the problems of the American people. We cannot absolve ourselves from our responsibility as citizens by hoping Congress will magically fix what ails the nation.
"Federally driven solutions aren’t likely to get passed into law nor are they likely to prevent such tragedies. Solutions to mass shootings will come from a combination of many smaller efforts – most of which must begin on the local level."
The key is community-driven solutions, not Washington-driven solutions. The high school survivors on Saturday are the voices perhaps most important now in their community, then in their state.
We need a groundswell of community-driven solutions that unite people.
In Las Vegas, city leaders were frustrated that the city could not ban bump stocks. So the city is trying to get that authority and convince the state to do something. If enough states take action, it may force Washington to then follow the lead of the people.
Gun safety can be increased across the board. School shootings are one problem. Suicide is another. Those who have easy access to guns when they are most emotionally unstable or vulnerable have a greater risk of dying by suicide.
"Whether you are a 'ban all guns' person or an 'everyone should have gun by their bed' person – everyone can agree on a culture of gun safety," Matheson said. "Trigger locks for weapons, which you can get for free in Utah, are a simple answer to increasing safety. Storing guns and ammunition separately and using gun safes can prevent tragedy. Utah lost 25 teenagers to suicide last year by gun, almost all of which were weapons easily accessed and not secured."
Treating gun violence and mass shootings as a health crisis is another way to attack the problem. That conversation must include mental health professionals, schools, law enforcement, faith groups, families and communities.
The nonprofit Prevention Institute reiterated this week a call to empower the Department of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration and the Department of Education to work with youth, community groups, faith groups and others on the grass-roots level to identify solutions and report in 90 days.
There is no simple answer to stopping the carnage. But it's time to change who is working on solving the problem and seek small improvements day after day.
Stoneman Douglas senior Delaney Tarr put it this way on Saturday: “This will not be forgotten. We will not be silenced. We will make a change.”