“Registering my gun is not gonna stop that gun violence,” said Eagle Gun Range owner David Prince.
The 70-year-old NRA member spoke to Cry Havoc in February 2018, just days after a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The shooter killed 17 people and injured 17 others.
“[School shootings] are a national tragedy,” Prince said. “And it’s sad that the national tragedy is being focused into the wrong area. It’s a smokescreen. We understand where the real problems lie and it has nothing to do with the guns.”
The cast visited the gun range to participate in a firearms safety drill and to better understand the perspective of gun owners like Prince.
During their visit, the performers shot handguns and rifles — including a fully automatic AR-15. The cast also interviewed Prince and asked him about all sorts of things, like the first time he shot a gun and his thoughts on open carry.
“Whatever we can do to keep ourselves safe,” Prince said. “If that means you want to carry it openly – fine. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea. At the same time, if you have it concealed, it takes longer to get there to protect yourself.”
But when the interview shifted towards Prince’s thoughts on a national gun registry and computerized databases, the cast was bothered by his suspicions about how the government might use a database to disarm responsible gun owners.
“I’m gonna tell ya what the theory is – if you have a national database, and a totalitarian government steps up and wants to disarm the citizens, you’ve just given them a roadmap on how to disarm those citizens,” Prince said.
Prince’s aversion to apparently any change to gun ownership as he knows it put off Cry Havoc’s young cast members. But now, because of their visit to the gun range, they know what sort of firepower students like themselves have faced during school shootings.
A couple of weeks later, the cast headed to snowy New England for spring break to explore the aftermath of a different mass shooting. They met with survivors of the 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. What they heard can best be told through the voices of two parents: Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley.
Hockley’s six-year-old son Dylan was one of 26 people murdered at Sandy Hook Elementry in December, 2012.
At the time of the shooting, Hockley was at a kickboxing class. But like many parents, when she heard her son Dylan’s school was on lockdown, she raced to get there. On her way to the school, Hockley was diverted to a firehouse down the street where authorities were trying to sort kids into different rooms.
“This woman, who I still can’t even remember who she is, but I know her face in every detail, she turned to me and she said ‘Which class are you looking for?’ And I said, ‘I’m looking for Ms. Soto’s class.’ And she said, ‘I heard she’d been shot.’ And that was my first indication that something was really not right.”
Despite the fear surging through her body, Hockley continued to search for her son Dylan. She pushed through crowds of worried parents and desperately asked any and everyone she could speak with for help. But no one could tell her where Dylan was.
Eventually, former Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy walked into the firehouse. He stood in front of a crowd of parents who were waiting to find their children. He said, ‘I need to tell ya. If you’re here, then your loved one’s not coming back.” The room erupted.
Today, Hockley said, she takes some solace knowing her son Dylan died quickly.
“I know that he was killed instantly. He was shot five times in the body and once in the head. And you think of a 60-pound kid, that’s a lot of damage. His face was perfect for his funeral though. When I saw him in his casket, it was just the back of his head that was gone.”
Barden’s six-year-old son Daniel was also killed during the school shooting.
Daniel was a very compassionate boy, Barden said. He used to hold doors for strangers. And when he found bugs inside the house, he’d scoop them up and release them safely outside.
“And all of his teachers would tell us that he was very concerned about his peers and that if anybody was sitting alone, he wanted to sit with them and make sure they were OK. Which prompted people to call him an ‘old soul’ and ‘the caretaker of all living things.’”
Barden admitted to being haunted by Daniel’s unexpected death. He told Cry havoc that he doesn’t want another parent to have to live through what he’s experienced. That’s why Barden, Hockley, and other survivors founded the non-profit Sandy Hook Promise. It trains students, parents and teachers to recognize the warning signs of a possible shooter – and then to take the next step to get that person some help.
Still, Barden is fighting to stay connected to his dead son despite the emotional pain that entails. And he told the cast he thinks about the gruesome details of his son’s death every single day.
“I have this kind of screwed-up, maybe screwed-up, need to live with the pain. And to take as much of the pain as I can. Because I couldn’t be there to save him. I just kind of feel like I owe it to him… Like, I don’t feel like I want to be cured or better or counseled or make this easier. I want it to be hard, and I want all the pain there is.”
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