“This must stop here,” said Rockville Centre resident Cindy Vaupel, her frustrated tone filling the pews at Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth on Feb. 16, two days after a gunman took the lives of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “This must stop with us.”
Vaupel, co-chairwoman of the village-based Raising Voices USA, then directed a message to the South Side High School students in attendance.
“As an angry and energized community, we stand with you and we pledge to you now that we will do better for you,” Vaupel said. “We have watched these events take place one after another in Colorado, in Texas, in Virginia, in my home state of Connecticut.”
She paused, fighting back tears. “In Florida,” she continued. “And we have not done enough for you.”
Dozens of residents turned out for the event, which was titled “Community Response to Gun Violence: A Vigil For Change” and hosted by Raising Voices, a local civic engagement group that formed after the 2016 presidential election. The vigil was similar to one held on the steps of the DeMott Avenue synagogue last August to denounce hatred and remember 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car plowed into a group of demonstrators opposing a “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Va.
“My question is, how many more times will we have to open our doors to gather together as a community in grief?” said Rabbi Elliot Skiddell. “When will this stop?”
Several of the vigil’s speakers emphasized turning the feelings of sadness and anger spurred by the school shooting — the ninth-deadliest mass shooting in modern American history — into political action. “God of justice, move in the minds and hearts of our politicians,” implored the Rev. Scott Ressman, of the United Church of Rockville Centre, “so that they take their hands off their Twitter accounts and put them on legislation that will make for real change.”
Rabbi Marc Gruber, who called on members of Congress and President Donald Trump to bolster restrictions on obtaining guns and ammunition, shared his encounter with an armed robber decades ago as a college student, as he delivered sandwiches to fellow students in a dormitory.
“I expected him to place his order, but he raised his arm and a gun was pointed at my face,” Gruber recalled. “He ordered me to give him my money. The barrel was inches from touching me.” Gruber noticed bullets in the cylinder, adding that the man was “so high, he could squeeze the trigger without any awareness of doing so.” He handed over his money and the robber escaped.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit co-founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that seeks to prevent gun violence, there have been 291 school shootings since 2013. This figure includes any time a firearm discharges a live round on a school premise.
“…We want an end to this epidemic of death and destruction!” Gruber shouted to the crowd. “Elected representatives, we want you to act now. Close the loopholes, change the laws. No excuse.”
Students and teachers from South Side High School read the names of the 17 people killed. “It was sort of eye-opening how prominent it is in our society and how we need to change this stuff now,” said JT Travers, who was among the student readers. “…It’s a dark thought to think about.”
Rockville Centre resident Arielle Kane, a mother of two, wept through portions of the vigil. “As a mom, I’m absolutely tortured and haunted by what our children may face,” she said, adding that her preschooler and first-grader do safety drills at school to prepare for potentially dangerous situations such as the shootings.
“I don’t know how to explain what this is for,” Kane continued. “I know how to explain a fire. I don’t know how to explain an attack to my children, and it is terrifying to put them on the bus every day.”
Laura Burns, New York state communications lead for Nassau County’s Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, urged those in attendance to advocate for a protection order law, known as a red-flag law, that allows immediate family members and law enforcement to petition to remove the guns of someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. Such a law — currently on the books in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington — might have prevented Nikolas Cruz from opening fire on his classmates, she said, as there were warning signs that he was capable of murder.
Raising Voices is set to hold an event on Feb. 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Turn of the Corkscrew, during which members plan to write to legislators about strengthening gun laws.
“Today we choose to change the narrative of guns in our country and build a different future for our children,” said Emma Travers, the group’s chairwoman. “Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough.”