Opinion

One year later: Parkland gunshots still echo, even in Tacoma, and 1,100 more kids are dead

High schoolers protest for gun control

Earlier this year, students from the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) and Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) demonstrated downtown in favor of more gun control. On Wednesday, Gig Harbor High students will walkout at 10 a.m in solidarity with studen
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Earlier this year, students from the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) and Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) demonstrated downtown in favor of more gun control. On Wednesday, Gig Harbor High students will walkout at 10 a.m in solidarity with studen

A year ago this month, 14 students and three educators were massacred in the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by an armed former student on a rampage of revenge. It was the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012.

The Feb. 14, 2018 tragedy rocked the upscale community of Parkland, and sparked a national movement led by surviving students who turned their shock and grief into outrage and action.

You would think things would have vastly changed for the better. That the number of young people killed by gun violence would have dropped. That Americans, young and old, would have put down their weapons.

Not at all.

In an unprecedented collaboration, the Miami Herald and other McClatchy newspapers and The Trace, a nonprofit online news organization that covers firearms issues, tabulated just how many more children and teens fell after Parkland. The outlets, with help from student reporters, tracked gun deaths among youths 18 and under in the year since that horrific Valentine’s Day.

Last week online and in Sunday newspapers including The News Tribune, the findings were published in unison, a rare media practice. The findings are enough to turn your stomach — or make you wanna holler. Sadly, when it comes to preventing youth gun deaths, the needle has barely moved.

There were 1,100 young deaths in 365 days. To bring home the enormity of it, the report says: “That’s a Parkland every five days, enough victims to fill three ultra-wide Boeing 777s.”

The exhaustive project found that older teens were more commonly victims, followed by small children, ages 2 and 3. Obviously, city streets were deadlier than rural areas. Although the data collected didn’t include race and ethnicity, it is clear most victims were minorities and lived in troubled inner city neighborhoods.

Here’s how some kids died across the country since Parkland, starting with some (but not all) who died in the Puget Sound area:

* Antonio Douglas of Federal Way, age 17, was fatally shot by a companion in December while their car was stopped at a pullout on Marine View Drive in Tacoma. They were among a group of boys smoking marijuana and passing around a stolen handgun.

* Ashen and Ava Field of Spanaway, ages 2 and 4, were shot to death in their beds while they slept last March. Their father, JBLM airman Clinton Field, 29, was reportedly upset about a pending divorce and had made suicidal comments to friends and family. Also killed that night was the children’s mother, 32-year-old Samantha Field. Her husband then killed himself with the handgun.

* Jace Alexander, a toddler in Fresno, California, was killed while playing with a SigSauer pistol left on a bed.

* Zack Kempke, 14, was struck in the head by a target shooter’s stray bullet while his family drove down a dirt road through an aspen forest in northern Utah, gazing at the autumn foliage.

* Amon Rice, 17, was cut down in a Wild West-style shootout in South Carolina that involved seven guns and 58 shots fired.

Though the high body count of semi-automatic weapons captures Americans’ rapt attention, the incremental toll from handgun violence is where we really need to focus.

One thing is clear: Parkland and its activist students have made a difference overall. In more than 20 states, gun-safety efforts were galvanized in a way that didn’t occur after previous shootings.

In several states, including Washington, legislatures lifted the minimum age to own a gun to 21, at least for certain models. In others, background checks were boosted, and in still others, temporary court orders are now available to block at-risk individuals from accessing firearms.

That was all Parkland.

That’s all well and good. And yet 1,100 young lives were snuffed out by bullets in the last 365 days. Whom do we talk to about that? And who is ready to take action?

(The News Tribune Editorial Board contributed to this editorial.)

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