A survivor of a 2018 school shooting came to Upper Arlington with hopes of bringing more awareness to the issue of gun violence.

While speaking before a crowd of hundreds in the Upper Arlington High School auditorium Nov. 3, Samantha Fuentes, a student who was shot and injured by shrapnel during the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made clear she didn't have a specific answer for addressing mass shootings or gun-related violence.

Rather, she said, she wants to chip away at gun violence, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the cause of 39,673 deaths in America in 2017.

Fuentes didn't make specific calls for change but said people should consider how gun violence affects them and determine how they can spark discussions to reduce those types of incidents.

"A lot of people think I'm a gun-control activist, which I certainly am not," Fuentes said. "I'm a gun-violence prevention activist.

"My focus -- and the dream, the goal -- is to have a world where we can coexist with guns but one that isn't killing people illegally and disproportionately every single day."

Fuentes spoke during a program presented by First Community Church's Gun Violence Prevention and Safety Task Force.

She took the stage after David Hogg, also a Stoneman Douglas student and survivor of the shooting, canceled his appearance, citing personal reasons. Over about two hours, Fuentes recounted being in a classroom when a gunman entered and killed two classmates, in addition to injuring her. In all, 17 people at the school were killed and 17 more were injured.

She then said Americans need to more openly discuss gun violence and how it can be reduced and encouraged support of funding for the CDC to research the issue.

"We can live in a world where we have moderate gun owners, people who understand the responsibility, the obligation and the right ways to have a gun but also where we prioritize the safety of people and we prioritize people over guns and have a system that cares about people more than the firearm," Fuentes said. "The problem here isn't moderate gun owners. It's not about people who aren't killing people."

"The task force was determined to raise awareness of the personal impact of gun violence, especially for young people," said Jamie Greene, First Community Church Governing Board president and a member of the church's Gun Violence Prevention and Safety Task Force. "The survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School inspired the task force with their activism, grit and approach to reducing gun violence.

"Samantha's story -- and her ability and willingness to tell it -- made her a clear choice of the event."

First Community Church Rev. Deborah Lindsay likened gun violence in America today to drunken driving in the 1970s.

Lindsay said she believes gun-related tragedies can be reduced without people's rights to own firearms being infringed upon but added that more discussion by researchers and legislators is needed.

"I graduated from this high school in 1977," Lindsay said. "At that time, school shootings were just not a thing. It wasn't something that you thought about.

"What was probably the largest thing was drunk driving. Every year, every class lost some classmates either to suicide or drunk driving. Still today, cars are legal, alcohol is legal, but the number of drunk-driving deaths among teenagers is down."

Since 1982, according to responsibility.org, drunken-driving fatalities in the U.S. have decreased 48%, while total traffic fatalities have declined nearly 16%. Among those under 21, drunk-driving fatalities have decreased 80%.

Fuentes called gun violence "a public-health crisis," noting it involves everything from school shootings and other homicides, as well as suicides.

She encouraged people to get involved in marches, petitions to lawmakers and groups that seek to reduce gun violence so the places throughout the nation can begin to change cultures and reduce incidents of gun violence.

"You have to find things that are appropriate for the issue," she said. "Be creative with how you want to prevent that happening in your life.

"Think about how gun violence impacts you and what part of gun violence you want to combat."

In her parting words, Fuentes transitioned to calling on people to promote kindness.

She said it's often easier to hate and be angry or fearful but said the world will can be a better place if more people use their energies to love each other.

"With love there's tolerance, there's acceptance, there's, you know, respect, and there's understanding," Fuentes said. "Even though people might do something to you that you can't control. Even though they might strip every ounce of hope and love that you have, you have the ability to put it back in the world.

"I hope that you choose love, and I hope that hate doesn't consume you, because you have the choice to do that. And I hope that love is an easier choice for you and that it's the only choice that matters."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate