This Former School Shooter Stands With The Student Activists At Parkland

Photo: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images.

The U.S is still reeling from the effects of the attack on Parkland school shooting. And survivors of the attack have sparked activists everywhere to rise up and take a stand against the violence that we are all too familiar with. But history is repeating itself — and it's far past time for a change, says one former school shooter.

John Sawchuk has experienced a school shooting firsthand, when he stopped then 16-year-old Jon Romano from harming any students at Columbia High School in East Greenbush, NY. In 2002, Romano fired two rounds with a shotgun before he was tackled by Sawchuk, the school's assistant principal. Though Sawchuk was hit in the leg, he suffered no permanent damage and no one else was harmed.

Seeing what happened at Parkland on the news rises complicated feelings for Sawchuk, but also brings about important questions. Why do these tragedies only seem to increase in frequency and levels of violence, and why is there not enough action being done to stop it? Sawchuk admits that if Romano had been carrying a gun with more firepower, like an AR-15, or had been firing more rapidly, "a lot of people would have been dead," he said in an interview with the Times Union in Albany, NY.

Romano, who is serving out a twenty-year sentence, was also moved to take action in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. He regards Sawchuk as "a hero I owe my life to" and says he was so inspired by the Parkland activists that he wrote a letter to the Times Union. He declared his intention to commit himself to doing his part in advocating for gun safety and mental health reform after his release.

"I believe the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are courageous and inspiring for demanding action from politicians," Romano wrote in this letter. "Everyone nationwide should accept nothing less than meaningful, life-saving policy changes from their politicians. Only then could this generation be the last generation that lives in a nation plagued by gun violence."

But it's important to examine how to prevent the violence from happening before it begins, and Romano does he best to offer a solution. "How do we explain that? In part, I blame a terrible and growing disconnect, from nature, family, community, spirituality," he says. "It's about replacing the real world of attachment and humanity, not to mention trees and sunshine, with a cold and angry virtual world."

Sawchuck also added that isolation that many kids feel could increase their inclination for violence. Without strong support systems and positive outlets to express themselves, they turn to violence to fill these voids, leading to dangerous results that could be avoided. The Washington Post found that "more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 schools have lived through a shooting on campus" since Columbine, which happened only five years before East Greenbush.

However slowly, change is happening. Since the Parkland shooting, retailers across the U.S. like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods have changed their policies in response to the shooting, with other companies following suit. Parkland activists have also pushed for change in areas that are interconnected to gun safety, such as the importance of voter registration. The Parkland activists themselves have inspired a resurgence of activism from Gen X'ers across the country.

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