The Back Road: Heartbreak, hope and the fight against gun violence

The Back Road: Heartbreak, hope and the fight against gun violence

Andy Malekoff

Fred Guttenberg lost his 14-year-old daughter Jaime at a school shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. He advocates against gun violence with a rare combination of pragmatism, raw emotion and empathy.

One of his primary objectives is to connect emotionally with others in debates regarding causes and solutions to gun violence.

He believes in fighting for measures that have a realistic chance of passage.

According to a report in the Guardian, they include raising the minimum age to buy guns, adding a waiting period before gun sales, having a no-loopholes policy for a mandatory background check of the gun buyer and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and bump stocks.

Guttenberg commemorated the 4th anniversary of his daughter’s murder at Stoneman Douglas High School with a tweet thread addressed to her. Following, with minor edits, is what he said.

“Dear Jaime, Today is 4 years since your voice was silenced. It is now 4 years since I last heard your laugh, saw your smile, and kissed you goodbye. It is now 4 years since I last had that typical parental worry about you and how your day was going?

“In our home, you both heard me say many times that I do not discuss ‘what if’ scenarios, I will only discuss ‘what is.’ IF you wanted to talk to me about something and ask me for something, you had to come prepared with substance and facts about what was happening in real time, not engage me in ‘what if.’ Jaime, I was wrong.”

Guttenberg continues: “For the past 4 years, I find myself asking ‘what if’ every minute of every day. What if you were sick that morning and we never sent you to school? What would your day have been like then?

“Would fate have intervened some other way or would you now be the beautiful 18-year-old teenager living her best life at The University of Florida? What would your dorm room look like? Who would your roommate be? Would you have your first college boyfriend? Would you be studying to be a pediatric physical therapist as you had always planned?

“Would you still be dancing? What if your murder never happened and the past four years included new photos, new videos, and new memories with you?

“What if a teenager or any other person with known risks was never able to acquire guns or ammunition to cause harm to others? What would our family be like now? What would our community be like now? What would my life be like now?

“What if the dominant thought in my head was still dreams of walking you down the aisle at your wedding and becoming a grandparent to your children?

“What if the dominant thought in my head was not images of your final minute before you were killed? What if the last thought in my head every day was not your FINAL seconds and wondering did you suffer?

“What if I did not have to go to bed every day hoping that you died instantly, out of fear that if you did not, that means you did suffer.

“What if America understood before you were killed, or even today, that reducing gun violence is a public health issue and not a second amendment issue?

“What if we could all agree on a way to move America forward to being a society where we can again send our kids to school without active shooter drills or fears of being shot, or to a movie, or to a mall, or to a place of worship?

“What if we could all agree that we owe it to our kids to be better than this, and to change course NOW, so that our kids and their kids can grow up in an America that genuinely and truly values life?

“It is never too late to change from “what if” to “what is” and finally do something about gun violence. Doing so now may save the life of the person you love, so that you don’t spend the rest of your life wondering what if?”

Political analyst Matthew Dowd, who was chief strategist for the Bush–Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, is a gun owner who supports Guttenberg’s approach to affecting change.

After appearing with Guttenberg on a cable TV broadcast, Dowd shared his sentiments: “It’s very easy, when you heart is broken and you live through a day of darkness, to turn it off and just become cynical and jaded and detach yourself from others.”

Fred has chosen what very few do. He has chosen honor, purpose and service. He has come through a tragedy that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, with a bigger heart and leadership light than any other human being I know.”

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