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Bucks County Youth Raised on Active Shooter Drills Want Sensible Gun Laws

Local students, along with more than a dozen organizations, will host a vigil marking the sixth anniversary of the Parkland shooting on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Rainbow Room in Doylestown.
March For Our Lives, March 2018. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

On February 14, 2018, a 19-year-old gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, opening fire with an AR-15, killing 17 and wounding 17 more.

After years of living in fear, performing active shooter drills, and attending vigils organized by other students, Heera Kalidindi and Iman Azeez decided to host their own. They, along with fellow students and more than a dozen organizations, will host a vigil marking the sixth anniversary of the Parkland shooting on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Rainbow Room on Court Street in Doylestown.

Herra explained, “We want to make sure that everyone feels safe in this country, and one of the biggest ways to do that is to address gun violence.”

image 3 - Bucks County Beacon - Bucks County Youth Raised on Active Shooter Drills Want Sensible Gun Laws

Heera, a high school senior, feels schools – she’s spent her life in Central Bucks School District – are unable to invest important resources in education because they must first train students to survive the day. “Why have we come to a point where our district has to pour money and resources to add safety locks to our doors so that a gunman won’t be able to break through them? At school we are doing so much now to prepare for a shooting. We’ve accepted it and normalized it, instead of demanding that that idea be gone.”

Council Rock High School’s Iman and CB’s Heera – both seniors – live in perpetual fear. Heera explained that she learned to be afraid of dying in school at an early age. “I know when I was in elementary school, we started Alice Drills in the CB district. I remember that we would sit down on our squares on the carpet and ask a hundred ‘what if’ questions. ‘What if the shooter came in this way, what if the shooter came in that way.’ And to hear seven, eight, nine, ten-year-olds asking those questions. We shouldn’t even have had a thought that someone would be coming into our schools and doing it.”

Likewise, Iman feels constant fear:

“I had a hyper fixation. How am I going to protect myself when I’m in that situation? And it wasn’t even if I’m in that situation, it’s when. I’d watch videos of others, how they survived their situation. Particularly Parkland, how they’d use the blood of fellow students to cover themselves, so it would look like they were dead too. We can’t look at that and say, ‘Oh that’s smart.’ We have to look at that and say, ‘What has our country come to that that is normalized?’”

READ: GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick Helps Derail Votes On Gun Control Measures

In planning their vigil, Heera and Iman reached out to CeaseFirePA for organizational help. Sarah Jones, the group’s Bucks and Montgomery County Organizer lent a hand. Working together on the project, the students learned of two bills that had cleared the PA house early last year, but are stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee where District 20 Senator, Committee Chair Lisa Baker, refuses to release them for discussion or a vote. (HB714) provides for universal background checks and (HB1018) allows for extreme risk protection orders.

Heera has an invitation for Senator Baker. “If you’re not going to listen to your fellow representatives that are asking you to take action, then listen to the kids. Listen to elementary school kids who are writing poems and speaking out at March for Our Lives. The high schoolers who have seen their friends die. We’re just hoping if they’re not going to listen to each other, they’re going to at least listen to us.”

Iman voiced dismay at the inactivity and misdirection employed by some lawmakers. She’s tired of them bringing up excuses and changing the subject. And she knows the mass shooting problem isn’t a mental health problem. “By saying it’s the mental health issues and then not holding a hearing for something that would help people with mental health issues if they had access to a gun [HB1018] – it’s completely hypocritical. In my school district we’ve had two suicides from guns, and nothing has happened. We’ve moved completely past it.” 

She also sees the mental health argument as a cover for racism. “Mental health is a fall back for when a person who is Caucasian or white commits a crime,” Iman said, adding “because if it’s a person of color committing the crime or perpetrating the act of gun violence, they’re not going to say it’s mental health.”

Herra agrees. 

“When it comes to mental health, I find it interesting that lawmakers and adults will talk about absolutely everything else but the actual problem. Simply put. The problem starts at the source – which is the gun. No one is taking away all the guns. But, if the argument is defense, no one needs a semi-automatic weapon to defend themselves.”

READ: Democrats Are Trying to Make Democracy Work in Harrisburg

Iman finds it stunning that the adults and government officials around her cannot come together to end the mass shooting phenomena the way adults in other nations have. “If a shooting happens in another country, they take so many measures to quickly get rid of guns and have more laws to protect people from it. In our country we see it on the news and we move past in three days.”

CeaseFirePA’s Jones likewise decries the makeshift obstacles in the way of sensible legislation to protect young people like Iman and Heera and encourages people to attend the vigil on Wednesday. “They’re up against a very well-funded, very small minority. They need the majority who want gun laws to be there and be heard. Go and show you care about gun violence.”

Lastly, the young women have a message for the Parkland families they will honor at the vigil. 

Herra said, “I don’t think anything I could say would express how frustrated and angry I am that they had to go through that and are going through that and will be going through that for the rest of their lives. I want to thank them for their courage for living through this. For doing all they can, trying to make sure this doesn’t happen to another kid. I’m truly sorry for their loss.”

Iman added, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you not only had to go through this, but you have had to watch our America move past it. I’m sorry you have to watch our government completely overlook this. I’m sorry you had to watch this happen over and over again with nothing changing. I’m so sorry that our government has failed us.”

READ: Solving Gun Violence Requires a Different Lens

Fred Guttenberg, father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg who was shot and killed that Valentine’s Day, took a break from writing his annual editorial about the massacre to respond to the Iman and Herra’s efforts. 

“We have more than doubled the number of weapons in American in only 20 years and we now have over 400,000,000. Simply put, the gun lobby got their way and now it is time for younger people to do everything IN THEIR POWER to fight for their safety. Early results on President Biden’s Safer Communities Legislation show that it is working,” Gutenberg wrote. “Younger people voting is the reason that this legislation exists and the reason that we now have an office of Gun Violence Prevention. Moving forward, use your voice and your power to make sure that this is a top voting issue in 2024 and more importantly, make sure that you and every young person of voting age VOTES!!!”

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Picture of Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is a freelance journalist and author. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband. Pat has written nine books on poverty and homelessness.

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