Guns Have Long Divided Parkland Residents. Will Anything Change After The Douglas Shooting?

May 13, 2018

Even before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in February that killed 17 people, guns played a part in Parkland’s politics: many people here own guns and support the Second Amendment. But in the two months since the shooting, the debate over gun rights has grown more contentious.  

 

The high school hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are full of students who sit on all sides of the gun debate.  

Patrick Petty is a junior at Douglas. His younger sister, Alaina, was killed in the shooting. Patrick said he’s always cared about politics and his family has always had political discussions. He’s passionate about finding solutions for school safety while defending the Second Amendment. And he doesn’t always agree with his classmates who started the March for our Lives movement. 

“I know that their fear is that they’ll get bashed for their views, and I think that’s the fear on the pro-Second Amendment side [too], on the more conservative side,” he said, “that we’ll get bashed for our views.”

Petty certainly isn't alone. Across the spectrum, people here feel nervous about sharing their views on guns. Teachers and community members say division and anxiety are up. Even when residents agree that change is necessary, they often have differing opinions on what that change should be.

On the day after the shooting, Parkland father Stephen Feurman told WLRN a story about a neighborhood block party a few years back, where he and his wife found out they were the only people on their street who didn’t own a gun. He was surprised. He said he never knows who could be offended by his views on guns, which makes expressing them difficult. 

“That’s the assumption we feel around town, that most people, it’s legal - so they get them,” Feurman said, while waiting for his two children outside a grief counseling session.  

There’s no public information from the Florida Department of Agriculture on how many guns are registered in Parkland or the surrounding area. The closest the state gets is data about concealed weapons permits by county (see graphic). 

It's also not reliable to base assumptions about gun ownership on party affiliation. Across the country, 44 percent of Republicans report they own guns, but so do 20 percent of Democrats. 

“In many ways, exposure to guns is so broad that it really cuts across party lines,” said Juliana Horowitz, an associate director of research for The Pew Research Center. 

Horowitz looks at social and demographic trends. Last year she was on a team that researched how people are living with guns on a national scale, not just who owns them.

The study also found that, no matter what your political affiliation is, if you grew up in a household with guns you’re more likely to have one as an adult. 

One thing that party lines do influence are beliefs about guns.

“Among Democratic gun owners, there’s a lot of support for policies that would restrict gun ownership,” Horowitz said, “while Republican gun owners are very supportive of policies that would expand it.” 

In Parkland, a city of more than 37,000, there are an equal number of registered Democrats and registered Republicans.  

Teaching different points of view on gun control is challenging, says Jesus Caro, who teaches speech and debate at Douglas. 

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a barometer for gun purchases, shows a spike in Florida gun sales in February 2018. Sales of long guns rose by 12.6 percent from 2017.
Credit The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System / WLRN

“I think it’s tough to represent all teachers ... especially in this community which has a lot of diverse viewpoints,” Caro said.

Caro said he has seen Parkland’s political divisions in the classroom since the shooting. 

“There are a lot of conservatives, a lot of liberals, that live here and teach here,” he said.

Meanwhile, the rest of the state is reacting to the mass shooting in a more measurable way: long-gun sales have spiked since the Feb. 14 shooting (see bar graph).

Read More: "My Goal Is To Come Together," Says Student Who Invited Conservative Speaker To Parkland

Patrick Petty, who lost his sister in the shooting and sees his friends and peers debating gun reform, said his goal right now is to have open and constructive conversations. Both in person and online, he said he already is.

“I think this whole event, this whole tragedy, has made me a little bit more compassionate towards the other side,” he said. “I want to have a conversation because this has affected me so directly, and I don’t just want to prove somebody wrong now.”