Parkland families launch new advocacy group

Parkland families launch new advocacy group
© Stand With Parkland

The families of those killed in the Parkland, Fla. mass shooting are launching a new advocacy group, Stand With Parkland, focused on finding “middle ground” solutions to gun violence in schools. 

Stand With Parkland, also known as the National Association of Families for Safe Schools, is being led by sixteen of the seventeen families who lost loved ones in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which left 17 dead and 17 injured in February. 

“We’d like to energize the ideological middle of the country,” said Tony Montalto, the father of Parkland victim Gina Montalto.

“The fringes have had a lot of voice and a lot of power out there," he added. "What we need is to get everybody to have a respectful discussion, come up with a compromise, and then take that final step of taking that compromise and making it actionable, whether it be law or public policy.” 

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While there are some differences among the family members on how best to address the issue, Debbie Hixon, the wife of Chris Hixon, a teacher who was killed, said they broadly agree on three issues: insuring school safety, providing mental health screening and ensuring responsible firearms ownership.

“As families of people that have been failed by a number of different issues, we all came together agreeing on three basic principles that we thought needed to change so that other families would not have to endure what we had to endure,” Hixon said.

“We all have different views ... but that really is the three core things that all 17 families agree on.” 

The families will engage in a number of lobbying and advocacy efforts at the local, state and federal levels under the umbrella of Stand With Parkland, Montalto said. 

A vocal group of Parkland student survivors have been making waves since the shooting. They launched a multi-million-dollar gun control advocacy group, March for Our Lives, in March, and the group’s most visible leaders each have around one million followers on Twitter. March for Our Lives leaders are spending the summer touring areas of the U.S. that are heavily affected by gun violence. 

While the leaders of Stand With Parkland say they applaud the efforts of March for Our Lives, the groups are unaffiliated. 

“We’re not afraid to take an incremental approach,” Ryan Petty, father of shooting victim Alaina Petty, said. “That requires compromise, that requires bipartisan action and support, and you’ll see this organization act in a very inclusive way.” 

The group says their funding will come from individual donations. 

“If we can energize 10 million people to give us some form of financial support, I’d be ecstatic,” Montalto said. “But what we want is to give people a place to go to show their support.” 

Petty described the Parkland victim families as a “club no parent wants to be a part of.”

“We’re all damaged,” Montalto said. “We’re grieving families. We’ve lost our spouses, we’ve lost our children. This is not an easy thing to take up a fight like this in the shape we’re in. There’s not one of us who wouldn’t go back to February 13 and make a change there.

“But unfortunately, we can’t do that,” he said. 

Instead, the families are advocating for solutions that Americans can agree on “today.”

“It’s about safer schools,” Hixon said. “Remember there’s kids, there’s adults, there’s all kinds of different people in the school area. It was my husband that was killed. It’s all of us, it’s a community and we want to show [the American people] that there’s things that we can do.

“Unfortunately, they weren’t done before we got done in this situation,” Hixon added. “But there are easy things that we can do that don’t require us to have any kind of political affiliation. We want to motivate the people of America to get them done as soon as possible.” 

The Stand With Parkland website can be found at standwithparkland.org