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

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.”

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

  1. Martha Danziger

    mr gutman’s loss is unbearable so whatever he says or does to ease the sorrow is fjustified but..

    he implied that the issue is non political yet he blames the Republican controlled Senate and the NRA for the failure to pass stricter gun laws.

    Blaming Pres Trump and Republicans) is mother’s milk to almost all new yorkers especially liberal westsiders but it does little to expand support for intelligent gun use.

    it also distorts the issue.

    What explains the failure of former Democratic president Obama – with his same-party control of both houses – to make all the necessary changes to gun laws?

    if we are ever going to make gun use in this country truly safe then the issue has to be totally depoliticized.

    it is not NRA members shooting up schools but most people agree that assault weapons are not needed for hunting.

    the issue that must be settled is what is acceptable for security.

    if u lived on isolated ranch along unprotected southern border then a high powered weapon might be justified cause violent drug cartel/illegal immigrant traffickers threaten ur daily life.

    what weapon should be legal for owner of small all night convenience store after surviving four robberies?

    mr gutnan’s call for more extensive background checks and better weapon storage makes sense and i support his position.

    i wish the journalist had given more specifics on the school shooter. if i remember then his background check was totally inadequate and he should never have gotten a gun or he bought it at a gun show where no background. was done….two major violations of existing gun control law.

    and how the hell did this murderous gunman get access to school? mr gutman is right that making heroes of brave but now dead kids is the wrong msg but where are the adults trained in protecting these children?

    i am sorry that i missed mr gutman’s talk, i salute his efforts to protect other children snd i condemn the shooter who stole his beloved daughter.

  2. I'm sorry anyone has to suffer the loss of anyone by any cause. However, when you have a problem, you must address the problem honestly. Mr. Guttenberg isn't. First, there haven't been 50 mass shootings this year, unless he's changed the commonly accepted definition of a mass murder used by most countries around the world. In fact, according to the list of mass shootings kept by Mother Jones, since January 1st of this year, there have been 3 mass shootings in the US. There have been 110 mass shootings in the US since 1982, and the vast majority of them were committed by someone with known mental issues.

    • Of all the victims of gun violence that he speaks of, most of those, approximately 2/3rds are suicides. Of the murders, over 50% of them are committed by black youths against other black youths. Since black youths account for about 3% of the US population, consider that 3% is responsible for half of all murders. Over half of all murders occur in just 2% of all US counties. It's easy to identify the problem areas and the problem population. Over 50% of all US counties have 0 murders. It's a social issue, not a gun issue. Not a single gun has ever shot anyone by itself. Until the problem is actually recognized and addressed, it will not get better. Almost all of those shooters are already prohibited from owning or possessing guns. More laws won't stop them. Address the real problem.

      • Let's address his claim that most countries restrict guns making them more difficult to buy. Well, that's true, but it doesn't decrease the murder rate. In fact, in almost all cases, including countries such as the UK, Ireland, Jamaica, which happen to be island countries, the murder, and violent crime rates increased after implementing tough gun laws and are still well above the levels when the original laws were implemented decades ago. In the US, the murder rate is near 100-year lows. Even Australia, who claims it has had no mass shootings since it implemented a gun buyback program and tougher gun laws after a mass shooting in Port Arthur, has had mass shootings and have had mass murders by other methods. In fact, after AU implemented gun laws, at least 126 people have died in mass murders, several from shootings. 127 had died in mass murders in the 50 years prior to Port Arthur. So in the 23 years since AU implemented it's gun laws, they have had as many killed in mass murders as they did in the prior 50 before the Port Arthur shooting. That would indicate the gun laws didn't make a bit of difference in mass murders. The murder rate in AU had been declining at a steady rate prior to that shooting. After the implementation of new laws and the buyback, their murder rate was increased for 6 years before continuing to decline at the same rate it was prior to the shooting. The fact is, the reason his daughter died is because he lived in a school district with officials that didn't do their jobs. This district covered up the fact that the shooter had well-known issues for years prior to the shooting. He should have been arrested, but because the school district had subscribed to the Obama initiative Promise Program, his crimes were covered up by the district and were not reported. If they had been reported, the shooter would not have been able to legally purchase the gun he used. In addition, the school security officer had opened up the campus and saw the shooter entering with a gun case. He did not bother to report it, even though he knew the kid was not allowed on school property. Another aspect being ignored by the father is a school resource officer who did not enter the school once the shooting started. If the officer had done as the national protocol has dictated for over 2 decades, and entered and confronted the shooter, his daughter would still be alive, as would all those on the 3rd floor. To blame the NRA, Republicans, and innocent gun owners for the death of his daughter is just dishonest, and he knows it. I can't imagine why he continues to claim otherwise.

  3. Clayton Edwards

    He does not bother to clatify any facts as well as misrepresent the NRA and gun owners as th problem rather than poverty and lack of jobs in the cities where gun control and democrats have placed liberal idealogy for good policy that works. Some one broke the stats down properly in earlier post.

    • " lack of jobs" — so we blame Trump for that, right? He promised to change that. Funny, I thought unemployment no longer exists and that there are more jobs available than citizens. Where you get your info?

  4. Chip in Florida

    “…the first cause people should say should be the gun,”


    You don’t blame the knife that stabs, you don’t blame the bat that hits, and you don’t blame the boot that kicks.

    You blame the criminal, if you are smart that is.

    Mr Guttenberg is letting his emotions blind him. I can not begin to understand what he is going through but I will not let his emotional state be the excuse used to restrict the freedoms of everyone else.

    • Sorry, Chip, but there is too much that you don't see: If someone in Florida does not lock their gun up appropriately, and it is stolen, and then it ends up on a bus to our City where it is used to kill someone, then that person who did not protect his weapons should go directly to jail.

      The problem is not the gun, but it is the corrupt makers and sellers who financially depend on guns being stolen, so they end up on our streets. That's not right!

  5. OK. Pass gun laws but… how will we keep our children safe? This week numerous children in Japan were killed with knives. The Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people & injured more than 680 others. The problem is not the guns but the desire to hurt others. A disturbed person will find a way even if you could take all our guns away – impossible as then only the "bad" guys will have the guns. It is a slippery slope designed to take away more of our civil rights. A long time ago, as a single parent living in the middle of nowhere, I used my gun to protect myself and my son and now I am a supporter of the second amendment.

    • "This week numerous children…" – 2. Does that qualify as "numerous" are you just stretching the truth? Maybe if there were fewer guns, our police could then focus on the lesser issue that you seem to think are epidemic.

      Those knives are not legal in this country, and McVeigh's bombs are not legal in this country, but guns are legal in this country. That's gotta change. We must remove every form of weapons that hurt others, but guns can do a lot more damage in much less time, so let's start with those. And let's get more help for "disturbed person"s.

      Our problems differ depending on whether we're urban or rural, so maybe a country person needs a better deterrent, but the problem is that their guns keep ending up in our cities. Is that fare?

      The 2nd amendment must be repealed. It is not about guns, it's about overthrowing the government. Without it, guns would still be protect by the 9th amendment, so you would have reason to worry…. unless you're doing something wrong.

      • You missed my point. The problem is not the guns, it is a sick culture. If a person wants to hurt others they will find a way w/o a gun.

        • Fixing a "sick culture" is not a real thing, but removing guns WILL lower our death rates. A "sick culture" is NOT a good reason to avoid passing gun law reform. If you can explain how to bring an end to a "sick culture" I will be happy to help you, but that doesn't mean we can't address the gun problem at the same time. It's like you're making a case that we can only address one issue, and you couldn't be more wrong. Let's fix them both!

          • I don't know about the latest shooter but all the the priors were on anti-depressents. The problem is not the guns but the criminal pharmaceutical industry – they are truly the bad guys. But answer my original question. If we do ban guns how will you keep our children safe?

          • Just because you can keep tossing out our things that are bad for our society, it does NOT mean that guys are not bad, too. Drugs are bad. A sick culture is bad. Knives are bad. Bombs are bad. Guns are bad. They are just as bad and more so. These things are not mutually exclusive. Banning guns will keep our children safe. Guns should only be in the hands of police, and that will work a lot better than the current state of killings.

  6. Prohibition does not work. Haven't we learned that yet? Ban guns and only criminals and terrorists will have them – there will be an increase in the value of guns and the underground gun trade will increase. Banning guns will not keep our children safe. The one thing that mass killers have in common (none of them have a criminal history) are psych drugs – ban those. I would not live in a rural setting w/o a gun and at least one good dog. I learned that through experience.

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