Valencia Staff, Students Weigh In On Recent School Shootings and Gun Policies in America

Mary Kate Hassett, Reporter

On May 24, a single gunman armed with an AR-15 assault rifle entered into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers. This came just days after the Buffalo, New York, supermarket shooting on May 10 where the shooter livestreamed the attack that left 13 dead.

In Orlando, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting had a single gunman who killed 49 people, seven having attended Valencia College, and injured 53. In 2018, a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 high school students and staff dead with an additional 17 injured. Florida is not immune to the threat of gun violence in our schools and communities. Both of the Pulse and Parkland shootings have become some of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

Four short days following the shooting in Uvalde, a 5th grade student in Cape Coral was arrested on May 28 after threatening to carry out a mass shooting at Patriot Elementary School. The 10-year-old boy has been charged with Making a Written Threat to Conduct a Mass Shooting after sending the threat out over text message.

On May 29, 18-year-old Corey Anderson was arrested in Lutz after he circulated photos of himself with what looked like a handgun, a rifle, and a tactical style vest. Anderson shared the photo with the caption, “Hey Siri, directions to the nearest school.”

Anderson was charged with one count of Written or Electronic Threat to Conduct a Mass Shooting or Act of Terrorism, according to a Statement released by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. On May 31, 2022, Anderson entered a written plea of not guilty, stating in an affidavit that the photo was a ‘dark joke.’

“This type of threat is unacceptable,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister, “This man intentionally instilled fear into our community as a sick joke.”

Politicians clash over sensible gun reform with many eager to shift the blame away from the actual firearms. In a press conference after the Uvalde shooting, Texas Governor Greg Abbot said the cause for the shooting was mental health, and that new, stricter gun legislation was not necessary.

“I am devastated by the tragic loss of life and angry that our legislators don’t think common-sense gun laws would reduce mass shootings,” Valencia College New Media Communication Professor Courtney Lewis said. “When I think about why the U.S. experiences more mass shootings than any other country, I must wonder if ease of access is the main contributing factor.”

Some politicians, including former President Donald Trump, have been advocating for more guns in schools with the idea that teachers should be armed. In a response to the Uvalde shooting, lawmakers in Ohio passed a bill earlier this month that would allow school boards to decide if adults should be armed at schools.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas supports arming teachers, or having armed officers at schools to prevent mass shootings. Cruz also proposed that schools should have only a single door in and out of the building with armed guards stationed there at all times.

“It just reaffirms that we’re going to keep being in this cycle until the politics of it changes,” Valencia student Alexandra Riley said. “People are like, ‘how does this keep happening?’ Well, you keep allowing the guns to be in the hands of people who shouldn’t have access to them.”

There is no shortage of inflammatory rhetoric to be found both online and in the news. Lewis believes that this sort of speech could play a contributing factor in conditioning susceptible or vulnerable minds who have not been exposed to a variety of opinions and ideas. This rhetoric can result in a narrow world view built on fragile pillars of hate and ignorance as well as act as a catalyst for a lone shooter to pick up arms to use against innocents.

March For Our Lives, a student-led organization formed by the Parkland school shooting survivors, held a rally in Orlando on June 12, demanding legislators for gun reform.

Mario Gonzalez, a security guard at the Valencia Winter Park campus, said that gun violence and mass shootings are uniquely American. “It’s almost daily. Lots of times it doesn’t even make real news because it’s just so normal now.” Gonzalez, however, remained hopeful that politicians will be able to work across the aisle to get sensible gun reform passed.

While firearms are not allowed within the actual buildings on campus, Valencia College Firearm and Weapons policy states that it is not a violation to bring a firearm (licensed or unlicensed) with you to keep in your car while on campus. Riley, Lewis, and Gonzalez all collectively agreed that the presence of more guns on campus would not make them feel safer. “Guns should not be on campus at all,” Gonzalez said, “Students and staff would all feel safer.”

Lewis expresses that while he believes the college policy is simply following the law, the policy does not necessarily represent the wishes of most faculty and staff. “Guns on campus do not make me feel safer. I think the presence of a gun increases the likelihood of violence.”

Disappointed but ‘not surprised’ was Riley’s reaction to the policy. “I can’t say I’m well-versed in the carrying laws in Florida, but I wish it was not that way. When people open carry, I do not feel safe. I feel threatened.”

Neither Lewis or Gonzalez have personally felt unsafe on campus. Gonzalez said that during his time employed by Valencia, he has never experienced a real threat, or felt threatened while on duty.

“I feel that Valencia does a great job of helping students feel included and valued,” Lewis said. However, while Lewis has never felt unsafe on campus he does point out that his experience and sense of security could stem from the fact that he is an adult male.

The experience on campus differs for Riley. In an America where the next school shooting could happen at any given moment, Riley asserts that one can never be too cautious.

“I am always on alert. You can’t let your guard down,” Riley said. “I’ve never felt safe on campus. Never.”