Petty's Sister Was Killed In Parkland Shooting But He Still Supports Gun Ownership

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 6:59 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are marking one year since the mass shooting, just a few miles from here, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Caitie Switalski reports from member station WLRN in South Florida, and she's with me. Hi, Caitie.

CAITIE SWITALSKI, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So you started covering the tragedy in Parkland, I mean, on our air, actually, literally as it was unfolding a year ago. Right?

SWITALSKI: Yeah, and it was - it was one of the most shocking and horrific days I think anyone here has seen. But it was impossibly hard. And I think that's the only way you can describe it. And that's why I think a year later, today, is so impossibly hard for people that live here and have lived through this, not just through that day but for an entire year of aftermath after this.

And that's why I think a lot of - a lot of families don't want to send their children to school today. A lot of people I've talked to are spending this day really hunkering down, you know, almost treating it like it's a hurricane day, which sounds strange - but just being together in your home with your family, no agenda.

GREENE: Reflecting and just being there, close.

SWITALSKI: Yeah. The idea about today, at least locally, is forget politics. Just remember who these 17 people were.

GREENE: You know, thinking about what's changed and what hasn't over the past year, there's this new NPR poll we have out this morning suggesting that around the country, the outcry over gun violence has lessened. And I wonder - I mean, here, is the youth movement that was begun by students here - is it still going strong?

SWITALSKI: Yes and no. The March for Our Lives movement, I mean, obviously took the entire country by storm this time last year after the shooting. And immediately, you had marches across the country. And here, a year later, I mean, it's just quieter activism. So it's not going to be going at the same rate it was when we had the big march in D.C.

But, I mean, for an example, just this week, David Hogg, who's a key figure in the March for Our Lives movement, he went to the Broward County Elections Office and helped file 200 signed petitions in an effort to get started, over the next year, trying to get a constitutional amendment on Florida's ballot in 2020 to ban the sale of assault-style weapons.

GREENE: So still - still active. But...

SWITALSKI: Still active.

GREENE: ...We should say, one thing you've reported on is that there are different views of guns in this part of Florida.

SWITALSKI: Absolutely. I think a lot of people might expect, because Parkland is the center of this March for Our Lives pro-gun-control movement, that it's in some way not a gun-owning community. And that's not true. It's really split, 50-50. And that split shows, not just through families but through all of this advocacy here. There's a big portion of people that own guns.

GREENE: Well, and in a second, we're going to hear another perspective on guns. You actually put us in touch with the young man, so I want to thank you for that and for your reporting. Caitie Switalski from member station WLRN.

SWITALSKI: Thank you, David.

GREENE: The young man that she introduced me to is Patrick Petty. He's a student at Stoneman Douglas, and his younger sister, Alaina, was killed there. And I asked him to tell me about her.

PATRICK PETTY: We fought, screamed, yelled at each other plenty of times over stupid things. But overall, we - we really started building a bond the past couple of years and got to be better friends and got to learn about each other. And we actually had pretty similar interests.

GREENE: Patrick is 18 years old. He wants to go to West Point and be a military officer. And he's always supported the Second Amendment. I asked him if that's changed at all since his sister was killed.

PETTY: After the shooting last year, my dad and I, we both looked at our views and thought about the Second Amendment a lot and thought about what it means to us and whether or not we still supported it and whether or not some of the things that we had supported for our entire lives, whether or not we supported those things still, or whether or not we had a - we had a change of heart. And we came out of it, I'd say, pretty much the same, if not stronger in our support for the Second Amendment.

And my belief is not about hunting. It's not about just having them for sport or for fun. It's the Second Amendment was written for us, the citizens, to protect ourselves against a tyrannical government. That may not happen for 50, hundred, even a thousand years. But the moment you take that right away, you open the door for it to happen. You make it easier for it to happen.

GREENE: Now, to fight a tyrannical government, Patrick said citizens should have the right to powerful weapons, even assault weapons like the one that killed his sister. Although recently, he and his dad went to Florida's state capital to show their support for a new law that included something he didn't like. It bars anyone under 21 from owning an assault weapon. The law had been 18. I asked him if he would have compromised on that before the mass shooting.

PETTY: No, I wouldn't have. I've always been into politics, and that's always been something that I've loved. I've always loved learning about the issues and learning information on them. And before the shooting, I really loved learning as much information about a topic so that I could be the one that was right. Since the - last February, my - my views haven't really changed. But my perspective has changed a little bit.

And now I'm focused on understanding people, why they think the way that they do, why a certain issue - whatever that might be, whether it's guns or school safety - why they take that position, why they care about that so much, and then finding the common ground and building - really building a relationship on what we both agree on first so that when it comes to a political hot topic - whether it's gun control, abortion, any of these big hot topics - we have that sort of bond between us already that makes us respect each other for just being humans and being people together.

And we already know that we're not terrible people. We can sit down and say, you know what? I love that person. I know - I know they're a good person at heart. We may not agree on everything, but that's OK.

GREENE: Were guns something that you and your sister bonded over?

PETTY: Yes. So my sister started shooting when she was about 8, so that was a couple years after me. And my dad took us and got safety courses. We started out small, with a .22 handgun. And he was right there with us every step of the way. Instructors were right there with us.

And yes, that's something that my sister and I bonded over and something that we both enjoyed doing. And I can remember seeing the smile on her face the first time she went shooting and the first time she was learning. She really enjoyed it.

GREENE: Is there a moment that stands out to you, over the past year, where you really felt like the high school community was just there for you?

PETTY: I definitely do. At my sister's funeral, just a few weeks after the shooting, when I got up to say a few words, I got up and I looked back. And there were about 3,000 people crammed into the chapel. And they opened up the gym as well and put a bunch of chairs in there.

And there were about 3,000-plus people crammed into that building to show support for my family and show support for my sister and come pay their respects. So that was probably the best physical representation of how much love this community has.

GREENE: Listen, we're all sorry for what your family's been through, and thank you for talking to us.

PETTY: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: That was Patrick Petty. He's a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where his sister, Alaina, was killed a year ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.