4 Years After My Daughter Was Killed, My Fight for Gun Safety Continues | Opinion

My daughter, Carmen, could do anything she put her mind to. When her grandparents told her they would give her their Prius if she got straight As, she aced her classes and proudly drove that mint green car all over town. When our family took a trip to Germany, she took language lessons until she was good enough to be our personal tour guide. As a senior, she had crossed every "t" and dotted every "i" on her college applications. We never could have imagined when she giddily sent them off that her acceptance letter would arrive after her death.

Carmen had her entire life ahead of her when she was shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018. She was one week away from celebrating her 17th birthday. The gunman carried an AR-15, a weapon of war, and used it to kill my beautiful daughter and 16 other students and educators, and wounded 17 others. The warning signs were all there, and yet he was allowed to build up the arsenal he used to inflict death and terror that day. Four years later, we are still waiting to hear what his sentence will be.

With Carmen's death, I was initiated into a club no one ever wants to join—parents who have had their child taken from them by gun violence. In an average year, more than 40,000 people are killed by guns in our country, and so every year, the club continues to grow. And yet no one ever leaves it because the pain of burying your child is lifelong, constant and enduring. Carmen's empty chair is always at our table. We still hang up the Christmas stocking with her name on it. And we still mark her birthday, even though it has been transformed from a celebration of her life to a reminder of our loss.

Carmen Schentrup is pictured
Carmen Schentrup is pictured. Photo Courtesy of April Schentrup

We are a nation of gun violence survivors and unless we pass laws at the local, state and federal level to address this crisis, more families will continue to join this club. By early February, more Americans have been killed by guns than in our peer countries in an entire year, which is why we have chosen this moment as National Gun Violence Survivors Week. Raising our voices as survivors now is critical because a surge in gun sales during the pandemic has already led to more firearm homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. Passing gun safety laws has never been more urgent.

I didn't choose this fight—it chose me. When Carmen was killed, I thought my world would end. I wasn't sure if I could get out of bed or even speak. But I channeled my grief and anger into action because I know that unless we act courageously now, more families will endure the pain of losing a loved one. When Carmen's voice was silenced, mine grew stronger.

I've helped push for an Extreme Risk law in Florida that empowers law enforcement to act on warning signs. I've worked to increase the age at which someone can buy an assault weapon from 18 to 21 and close the loophole that lets a gun sale proceed without a completed background check after three days. As a former principal, I know the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of children and teens in order to keep our schools safe. I've continued to advocate for strong gun safety laws across the country because research shows that states with stronger gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

I am still and will forever be a mother of three, even if one of my children no longer walks this Earth. I am a survivor because I push through my pain. I fight for stronger gun laws because I know the stakes are so painfully high. And I continue to demand action because my two living children—and your children—deserve a safer world. We all do. Text READY to 644-33 to join us in our movement to save lives.

April Schentrup is a survivor fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network and a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Washington.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.