‘This is fixable’: Parkland father on U.S. gun violence

Pamphlet for Conversation copy

BY GABE HERMAN | At a May 23 event in Chelsea at the Center for Jewish History, Parkland father Fred Guttenberg talked about the school shooting last year that took his daughter’s life, and the work he is doing to promote gun safety laws in America.

Guttenberg’s daughter, Jaime, was 14 when she was killed on Feb. 14, 2018, in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, by a troubled former student. The shooting left a total of 17 people dead, including students and staff.

Guttenberg was joined in conversation at the Chelsea event, at 15 W. 16th St., by ABC News journalist Matt Gutman.

From left, Fred Guttenberg, Matt Gutman and a sign-language interpreter at the talk at the Center for Jewish History. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Guttenberg spoke candidly and powerfully of the events of that tragic day last year. Since it was Valentine’s Day, he had digitized his and his wife’s wedding video, to watch that night as a family with Jaime and their son.

He recalled that morning being a normally chaotic one, trying to get everyone out the door. Guttenberg said he is haunted by what he doesn’t remember of that day, like not knowing if he told his daughter that he loved her.

He received a call in the afternoon from his son at school, who said there was a shooter and that he didn’t know where his sister was. Later that day Guttenberg had to tell his wife the news he had learned, that their daughter had been slain.

Jaime Guttenberg, center, with her parents Fred and Jennifer and her brother Jesse. (Courtesy Fred Guttenberg/Facebook)

Jaime was killed in a school hallway, just before she was able to turn a corner and safely go into a stairwell. Guttenberg said he could only hope that she died instantly and did not suffer.

Guttenberg has since worked tirelessly to advocate for gun control laws, and started a nonprofit with his wife, Orange Ribbons for Jaime. The organization supports programs that were important to Jaime, and those that work toward gun safety reforms. This year, the nonprofit is supporting Jacob’s Pillow, the Paley Institute and Broward County Humane Society.

The statistics related to gun violence in America are staggering, as was noted in the evening’s conversation. Gutman said there are about 40,000 gun deaths in America every year. Just this year, just since March 31, there have been 50 mass shootings.

“And school shootings are the ultimate derangement,” Gutman said.

Guttenberg, who is originally from Long Island, stressed that shootings don’t just happen in schools, though.

“Every one of you loves someone,” he said. “We need to understand that we are all potentially victims.”

“The crazy thing is, this is fixable and preventable,” he added. “We have a gun problem in this country.”

The cover of a pamphlet about the conversation. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

He said he wouldn’t stop his advocacy efforts until the problem was addressed, and said that while the U.S. House of Representatives currently has the will to pass laws, the Senate does not.

“The next election for me means everything,” Guttenberg said.

Guttenberg and Gutman discussed the potential causes of America’s problem with gun violence and mass shootings. Gutman thought that maybe a lack of community and isolation was a major factor.

Guttenberg said that even though mental health is often pointed to, two-thirds of shooters do not have a mental health problem, and that what is unique about America is how easy it is to obtain weapons.

The bereaved father said that most countries restrict the kinds of weapons that people can buy, and make them harder to purchase, including by adding more background checks. He said this would also help because many shootings are done based on emotion, and taking more time to obtain guns might prevent shootings.

When it comes to America’s gun violence, “the first cause people should say should be the gun,” Guttenberg emphasized. He said the National Rifle Association is the biggest reason more is not being done to address the crisis, in his view.

“The problem has escalated and we’ve done nothing about it,” he said.

This March, Jaime’s Law was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The law would require instant universal background checks for sales of gun ammunition.

Information about the OrangeRibbonsForJaime effort. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

“Bullets don’t know if you’re Republican or Democrat,” Guttenberg said at the Chelsea event, at 15 W. 16th St. He also supports safe storage laws, which require guns to be locked away and unloaded when people who are not authorized to possess a gun are present.

“This is not rocket science, this is a fixable problem,” he said. Guttenberg added that while laws won’t prevent every killing, commonsense legislation can prevent dangerous people from getting guns, including those who spew hate on social media.

Since the conversation was held at the Center for Jewish History, Gutman asked Guttenberg about his Jewish background and the role it plays in his life. Guttenberg said that he grew up in a Conservative Jewish home on Long Island, and was raised to give back and do what’s right for others.

“That is the Jewish upbringing in me, that plays a strong role in what I do,” he said.

Guttenberg acknowledged that his faith in God has been shaken, first when his brother died of 9/11-related cancer just four months before the school shooting, and then after his daughter was murdered.

“My faith in community and people got stronger than it’s ever been,” he shared. “I have met amazing people who have been pillars of strength for me.”

Gutman noted that kids who save lives in school shootings are being lauded as heroes, and Guttenberg said that while he is thankful for those children saving lives, he feels that it normalizes gun violence.

“No 12-year-old should be giving his life because we have a gun problem in this country,” he said. “Kids are being coached how to deal with shootings and be heroes, instead of addressing the gun problem,” Guttenberg added. “No one should be O.K. with that.”