On Feb. 14, 2018, Delaney Tarr hid in a school closet as a gunman killed 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A little over a month later, Tarr and her classmates took their outrage to Washington, D.C.
Tarr spoke to thousands in attendance at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington in remembrance of the students and faculty members who lost their lives. The 200,000-person protest in Washington, along with hundreds of others that occurred around the country on the same day, was estimated to be one of the largest youth protests since the Vietnam War era.
“Today we fight, we march, we roar,” Tarr closed her speech at the MFOL protest. “We are not waiting any longer.”
Today, the now-University of Georgia student sports her Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School class ring as she squeezes through crowds at the Tate Student Center.
Tarr and other Douglas High students — including Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg — organized the MFOL rally and movement in support of gun reform after their community was devastated by the mass shooting. Tarr has remained active in lobbying for gun reform.
After a year of speaking at national conferences and forums, penning an op-ed for Teen Vogue and appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, those events don’t faze her. It was her move from South Florida to a traditionally conservative state that caused Tarr the most doubt. Tarr is occasionally recognized on campus, but says many students are unaware of her past and why she is passionate about gun reform.
“Some days, I’m happy,” Tarr said. “Others I'm reminded more of what happened [Parkland shooting] and all I want to do is fly home.”
Tarr participated in the Moms Demand Action rally at the Arch in August, where Athens residents and students protested for gun reform. To her surprise, dozens of cars drove past, screaming and honking at the crowd.
On a weekly basis, Tarr receives numerous disparaging comments and “death threats” from strangers over the internet. While Tarr said the threats don’t deter her activism, it does make her more aware of the circumstances in which she should and should not speak out.
“I just have to understand that not everywhere is a safe place to speak my mind,” Tarr said.
In an interview with The Red & Black, Tarr’s mother, Jennifer Tarr, spoke about the aftermath of the shooting for the Tarr family and what led her daughter to Athens. On Feb. 14, Jennifer Tarr was enjoying lunch when she received a text message from her eldest daughter saying her high school was under lockdown and she was hiding in a closet. Initially shaken, Jennifer Tarr stayed composed.
“I was calm for her sake and for mine,” she said.
Eventually, the lockdown was lifted and students returned home while parents, like Tarr’s, attempted to reinstill “normalcy.” The Tarr family continued their plans to host an at-home Valentine’s Day dinner but Jennifer Tarr noticed Delaney “not really eating” or communicating.
The next day, the death tolls were released and the family prepared for the first vigil of a Parkland shooting victim, Jaime Guttenberg.
“Listening to Fred Guttenberg speak of his dead daughter Jaime, and how he couldn’t remember if he said ‘I love you’ to her that morning was heartbreaking,” Jennifer Tarr said.
The days and weeks after the shooting, Jennifer Tarr noticed her daughter, known as DJ to the family, dove headfirst into her work with March For Our Lives. Initially she was skeptical of her daughter’s heavy involvement with the movement, but Tarr insisted it helped her cope.
“The students in the march were able to talk to each other, almost like group therapy,” Jennifer Tarr said. “They had this shared tragedy.”
As for her daughter’s decision to commit to UGA, Jennifer Tarr played a large role. Tarr took a semester off to focus on MFOL, after which Jennifer Tarr urged her to experience a “normal” college life. After discovering the reputation of UGA’s Grady college, Jennifer Tarr was sold, and after a campus tour, Tarr was, too.
Although Jennifer Tarr is elated at her daughter’s enrollment in UGA, she admits the transition proved difficult for Tarr. In a state and city where she wasn’t recognized, her past trauma isolated her.
“Nobody there understood what she had been through,” Jennifer Tarr says her daughter’s ‘escape’ to UGA came with challenges. “Or why on Feb. 14, she wanted to just come home.”
Although she realizes some do not agree with her beliefs on gun reform, Tarr also has plenty of like-minded supporters.
“There’s always people who understand what you’re fighting for, and those people exist in Georgia,” Tarr said.
New state, new laws
Tarr is now a sophomore intended-journalism major and has plans to establish a chapter of MFOL at UGA. The process of creating a chapter within the organization is long and differs between states, but as of now, she is simply looking for supporters.
Before opening a chapter, Tarr wants to understand the needs of the Athens community first.
“I’m excited to get more involved and engaged locally,” Tarr said. “That’s step one.”
Until then, her goal as a UGA student is to open the doors to conversation about gun violence. She believes in the power of the youth as illustrated through the MFOL movement.
“I think every young person, especially college age, needs to know their own power, and if I can do anything to communicate that to them then I think I’ve succeeded,” Tarr said.
During her time at UGA, Tarr hopes to tackle topics like the campus carry law and further discuss her own stance on gun policy. Tarr interprets the Second Amendment to mean that reasonable regulations should be in place — regulations that she believes can save lives.
“If you look at Odessa, Texas, the shooter was able to purchase a gun through a third-party private sale because he couldn’t pass a background check,” Tarr said, referencing the Aug. 31 shooting where a gunman killed 7 and injured 21 people. “That loophole killed people.”
Tarr stands by the position that UGA’s campus carry law has the “potential to kill.” The law, introduced in 2017, allows individuals with a firearm license and who are 21 or older to legally carry a concealed weapon on certain areas of college campuses.
While not an advocate for prohibiting guns in general, Tarr believes it makes sense for certain places to allow guns, but not all. She finds the presence of guns on campus unnecessary and fear inducing.
“There are some areas where I just want to learn,” Tarr said. “I just want to live without having to fear for my life and I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask.”
The pain behind the activism
Once Tarr moved past the initial feeling of grief after the shooting, she focused her fight for gun violence prevention toward the National Rifle Association, the influential pro-gun lobbying group.
“The NRA-funded politicians in Congress are to blame for this,” Tarr said. “Frankly we should not be doing this work in the first place. It’s not our fault, it’s theirs.”
The recent mass shootings remind Tarr of the bonds and support systems formed between survivors. Tarr said she urges survivors everywhere to remember the hundreds of people fighting for change with MFOL.
Tarr emphasized the importance of accepting the grieving process in whichever form it comes. Looking back, she understands the role her trauma plays in her work.
“My activism is fueled by my grief and that’s OK,” Tarr said.
Looking forward, Tarr hopes to enjoy her new life at UGA as she transitions from her role from a survivor and activist to now a student.
“In a way, coming to UGA was me reclaiming my life as a young adult,” Tarr said. “I’m really happy to be a Bulldog.”