Ryan Petty’s 14-year-old daughter Alaina Petty was among the 17 killed during the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and since then he has been a vocal supporter of what he calls a “middle way” through the contentious gun control debate to advocate for legislative reforms that focus on school security and mental health services.
Petty and several other families of the Parkland victims publicly supported Florida Senate Bill 7026, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) last week.
Now, they are turning their attention to the federal level and the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act, which is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). A companion bill, sponsored by Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL), is up for a vote in the House soon.
As part of this effort, Petty testified this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Petty began his testimony with a statement from the families of the victims, offering their thanks to the first responders who acted heroically to save lives on the day of the shooting, and the many people around the country who have offered their condolences and support.
“As families, we came from different backgrounds and we hold a variety of viewpoints, yet we united around a simple idea: our children and teachers should be safe at school,” said Petty. “We rallied to the battle cry, ‘this time must be different.'”
Petty described how, in three short weeks, they had helped support the passage of legislation in Florida, describing it as a “good start,” but “there is much more to be done.”
“The senseless murder of so many, including my own beloved daughter Alaina,” said Petty, having to pause to regain his composure, “tests the limit of faith and demands more endurance than we thought possible.”
Petty said that he and the other families were seeking meaning in their loss, and found comfort in faith, as well as a desire to avoid political divisiveness and find a path forward to achieve real reforms.
The gun control discussion has captured much of the national media attention, with the Stoneman Douglas students who support gun control becoming social media celebrities with millions of followers and favorable interviews by HBO’s Bill Maher and a variety of cable news hosts. Meanwhile, as Petty notes, he and other families have been rejecting this “opportunistic agitation” and supporting “inclusive rather than divisive” reforms like the bill that passed in Florida
“Instead of the media-fed, activist-inflamed, and politically-aggravated din of the past month,” he said, “I speak today of the real and substantive legislative and policy achievements we made in the state of Florida, earned at an unimaginable cost, and I’ll share a few ideas on how the United States Congress can emulate and expand upon those accomplishments.”
“We’ve learned at great personal cost that Americans can come together…We don’t have to all agree on guns, and we won’t, but we can agree on the most fundamental things,” he continued, describing how there is agreement that schools should be safe and law enforcement should be competent.
Petty also expressed his frustration that the many government agencies that were empowered to take action against the shooter — the school district, the Florida Department of Children and Families, the FBI, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office — all had information that would have allowed them to act “well before tragedy struck, [but] not one of them fulfilled their duty.”
“The testament of their failure is seventeen dead children and teachers, seventeen more with life-altering injuries, a burden we must bear forever,” he said. “Add to this failure the failure to warn the parents of the students. By this inaction, we were rendered powerless to fulfill our most basic duty as parents: to protect our children.”
“Forgive me then, if I do not believe government is the ultimate solution. Our trust in our institutions and our office holders is deeply shaken,” he continued. “Our broken hearts cry out every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.”
Petty then said that as far as a solution goes, the legislation passed in Florida is a good start, but more must be done to secure our schools, and urged support for the STOP School Violence Act.
“I call on Congress to pass this legislation,” said Petty. “Follow the lead of what has been accomplished in Florida. Build on common ground.”
Petty described his mission to support these reforms as “not one I ever wanted, but one I accept, in Alaina’s name, and I will see it through.”
Watch Ryan Petty’s full testimony here:
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