Alissa Rubin's mother Deborah visited the memorial site at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to remember the 17 people who were killed last month in a mass shooting at the school. Alissa Rubin -- a 2011 alumnus of the school -- plans to join others this month at a nationwide march in support of gun control and school safety. [Photo by Deborah Rubin / Courtesy of Alissa Rubin]

Moab resident Alissa Rubin grew up in a mid-sized suburban town in Florida.

She attended a large high school, alongside the same classmates with whom she’d gone to elementary and middle school. She played lacrosse, one of many sports and clubs offered. Nothing particularly stood out about her town or her high school – Rubin says that before Feb. 14 of this year, even many Floridians would not have recognized the name of Parkland, Florida, much less the name of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed by a 19-year-old attacker with a semi-automatic weapon.

Rubin grew up in Parkland and graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 2011, and now lives in Moab, where she is an intern for a local nonprofit. She was stunned by the Parkland shooting.

“My former teachers still work there,” she said of the school. “They have a really high retention rate of great teachers who feel very invested in the school and the community, and so I’ve been seeing my teachers on the news … the same teachers that I had.”

Though she would never have expected to see her grade-school teachers in the media commenting on an event like this, the fact that they are still teaching at the same location fits with the way Rubin remembers Parkland. In addition to having a well-funded, “academically rigorous” high school, Parkland is a bikeable town, she said, close enough to the coast to drive to the beach for the day. The community offers events and recreation sports leagues in its parks. It’s the kind of place people choose to raise a family.

“You grew up with the same kids. And then you’ve had the same teachers as your siblings – it’s that type of a feel,” she said, describing her hometown and high school.

Guns were “not a thing … I didn’t know anyone who openly had guns,” Rubin said.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas – survivors of the shooting – have directly challenged both Florida and national lawmakers to enact gun reform. Policies under consideration include raising the age limit to purchase rifles from 18 to 21, strengthening enforcement of background checks on gun purchasers, and creating a way for close family members of gun owners to alert authorities when they have concerns about the mental health of their loved one, so that law enforcement could then temporarily confiscate the weapon.

The Florida students have also launched a rally called March for Our Lives, which will be held on Saturday, March 24, in cities across the country and is intended to spur both voters and lawmakers into action on gun control and school safety.

Rubin plans to attend the March for Our Lives event in Denver. She has strong opinions about the issues, and she also wants to support the students from her school.

“It’s really exciting,” she said of the momentum behind the movement. “Having the students driving the conversation and keeping it in the spotlight … and them being so impassioned and articulate about it – it’s had an impact that is appreciated.”

David Adams taught high school in Moab for five years, and he was a substitute teacher for another four years.

He is concerned that gun reform could be a “slippery slope” that could limit the rights of law-abiding citizens to use guns responsibly to protect their homes and families. Adams rejects the idea of gun-free zones.

“You make an area gun-free, and what are you going to do?” he asked. “You’re going to attract people who have bad intent.”

Adams remembers learning to handle a gun through the Boy Scouts program when he was just 12 years old. He believes that increased gun education and awareness will make everyone more comfortable, and he supports allowing willing, capable school staff to carry firearms on school campuses as a protective measure.

While he is skeptical of restrictions on gun ownership, he does believe that in-depth, properly enforced background checks can help prevent mass shootings like the one in Parkland.

“A gun is a tool,” he said, “it’s not inherently good or bad; it just is what it is. The intent of the person is what matters. We’re making guns into this evil entity where one doesn’t exist … I don’t think we have a gun issue in this country, I think we have a mental illness issue in this country.”

While activists are trying to change gun laws, school administrators are brainstorming ways to secure their campuses and keep students safe during a crisis.

Grand County High School had already implemented new security measures last fall.

In a Facebook post, Grand County School District Superintendent JT Stroder informed parents and the community of safety steps the school has taken in the Grand County School District.

Emergency response personnel meet monthly with school officials to review plans, the post says. Students regularly perform emergency drills in school. A city police officer is assigned to Moab schools. All entrances are monitored by security cameras, and anyone entering the school must go through the front office. “This is something that we take very seriously and are constantly reviewing to make sure that we as a district are doing everything we can,” Stroder said in the post.

Grand County High School Principal Dr. Stephen Hren said that school officials are currently reviewing the district plan again, “and determining if we need to make revisions.” In addition to emergency planning, the school is increasing the availability of counseling and mental health care. A team of school employees and community members is dedicated to fostering relationships with students who are considered “at-risk.”

“We need to develop relationships with our students so they do not feel isolated,” Hren said. “… Developing positive relationships are the key, so students feel included, and that they can share information prior to events occurring.”

Grand County High School has encouraged classroom discussions about gun control, mental health and the Parkland shooting.

Rubin agrees that a higher value needs to be placed on mental health.

“… Placing more of a value on (mental health) and creating less stigma around those issues – especially starting at a young age – that can help with school safety and making students feel safe,” she said.

Some teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas have brought therapy dogs to their classrooms to comfort traumatized students returning to school. Rubin suggested that more schools might consider having creative and thoughtful mental health offerings, like therapy dogs, available.

However, Rubin feels that no amount of focus on mental health or school campus security can make up for the need for gun law reform.

“… Change has not happened for so long, and events like this can happen anywhere – it happened in my town,” she said, referring to gun control legislation. “It’s time for some progress in this conversation.”

Rubin is optimistic about the energy behind the March for Our Lives movement.

“It feels like the ball is rolling, which is great,” she said. “And I’m just really proud of my town for using a state of anger and sadness to lead to progress.”

Alissa Rubin graduated from Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School in 2011