Fred Guttenberg Remembers His Daughter, Takes on Gun Violence Two Years After Parkland
Two years ago, on February 14, 2018, I sent my two children to school. I was so busy rushing Jesse and Jaime out the door that morning so that they would not be late, that my final words were not “I love you!” In fact, I do not even remember if I said those words or not, as I was focused on getting them out the door.
Jesse came home that day; Jaime did not. I sent my children to school, a place where they are supposed to be safe. Instead, Jaime became a victim of gun violence due to ineffective gun laws and well-documented failures by multiple agencies. It would be easy for me to simply blame those that failed us that day, but I can’t. Reality is that the 18-year-old killer of my daughter and 16 others was able to legally buy his weapon, in spite of his age, and in spite of known risks.
Sadly, preventable gun violence is all too common in our communities thanks to deficiencies in our current laws surrounding those who can and cannot own weapons,
The only way to deal with gun violence is to address all of the issues and that includes the gun. Many will say, “it’s just about mental health,” and to that, I will say, yes, we should do more with mental health.
Many will say, “it’s about school security,” and to that, I will say, yes, we should do more to protect our schools.
Many will say, “it’s about law enforcement,” and to that, I will say, yes, we should hold them accountable.
The problem is that many of those same people do not want to address the issue of gun ownership. I do. Guns are the common denominator in all of gun violence and to not address that is like trying to put a band-aid on the hole left by an AR-15 bullet and hoping the bleeding stops and the person survives. It won’t be enough.
Time has moved forward, but the truth is the minutes of that day play over and over in my head, and it still feels as if it just happened. At Jaime’s funeral, the Rabbi said, “We do not move on, we move forward.” Every day for me is a new journey where I go through this process of moving forward but never moving on. I am still a dad to both Jesse and Jaime and every day I get to go through life as their dad, responding to what happens to them. For Jesse, that means I get to live life with him doing things that we enjoy and watching him go through the normal life milestones. For Jaime, that means I get to live life through pictures, videos, and other memories and dealing with the emotional reality of what I won’t get to do. I won’t get to see her graduate. I won’t get to see her drive. I won’t get to see her have a first boyfriend. I won’t get to see her have her first job or a career. I won’t get to see her get married or walk her down the aisle. And I won’t get to be a grandparent to her children. However, I am still Jaime’s dad and as her dad, I WILL get to respond to what happened to my daughter.
What does that mean? How do I respond to what happened to my daughter other than making sure I visit her at the cemetery? Quite simply, by becoming her voice and fighting the lobby and the legislators who worked together to weaken our gun laws and to put our children and loved ones at risk of gun violence. By making sure that we address the reality of the gun in gun violence. As Jaime’s voice, Jaime and I will work together to pass gun safety legislation and to defeat the legislators who put the needs of this lobby over the needs of public safety.
The night after Jaime was killed, I spoke at a vigil in Parkland. Following that vigil, I came home and said, “I am going to break that fucking lobby.” We are succeeding. The NRA is a shell of its former self. The last election also showed that legislators are running from the NRA and those that continued to embrace them were fired. That said, we still have legislators who embrace them and that includes the current occupant of the White House. He still speaks to them and seeks their counsel. In fact, this President has become the NRA’s public megaphone.
As recently as this State of The Union, he repeated the ultimate NRA talking point lie about the second amendment being under attack. THE 2A IS NOT UNDER ATTACK!!! Just ask any lawful gun owner in Florida which part of the gun safety legislation that we passed after the Parkland shooting affects them. The honest answer is none of it does. It has no effect on 2A rights; however, it does make it harder for those who intend to be violent to get guns, and it has saved lives. We have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Gun safety legislation is not an attack on the 2A, but it is support for our other rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
I happened to be attending this State of The Union as a guest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and following the 2A comments, I screamed out, “What about victims of gun violence like my daughter.” I was detained and ultimately released. Because of my outburst, the following day this country was forced to talk about the reality of gun violence and the lie that the current occupant of the White House told. For that, I was very thankful.
Gun violence should not be a partisan issue. Bullets do not care if you are a Republican or Democrat. There’s nothing partisan about it. Unfortunately, the response to dealing with gun violence is partisan. With few exceptions, the majority of Democrats want to do more, and the majority of Republicans do not. That said, I am very thankful for former Governor John Kasich and current Maryland Governor Larry Hogan who have worked to pass gun safety measures and are Republicans. The same with the Florida Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, who is now working to pass additional gun safety legislation in Florida. These are examples of Republicans who are willing to do something. There are others and because of them, I remain optimistic.
Doing something about gun violence is a top voting concern now for the majority of Americans. In fact, with regards to laws such as the Background Checks bill passed by the House Of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, there is over 90% support. Gun safety candidates are winning elections. The Democratic candidates for President are all putting out worthy plans and discussing gun violence. The 2020 election is around the corner. Americans support a comprehensive approach to dealing with gun safety and they are prepared to vote for it. I remain optimistic that the desire for gun safety will play a pivotal role in this election and will help to determine its outcome.
On this two-year remembrance of Jaime’s murder, I want to wish everyone a Valentine’s day filled with love, peace, health, and happiness. And a reminder to everyone: hug your loved ones tight. Remember to tell them that you love them and look them in the eye when you do so. The truth is, until we deal with the reality of gun violence, it may be the last time you get to do so.