“But don’t worry; it will never happen to us.”
If we could count the number of times a teacher or administrator has given that answer to our “What if?” questions following a routine school lockdown drill, then we would need about seven hands. In 2018 alone, there have been 14 school shootings, an average of 1.5 a week. Who is to say it will not happen to us?
Every year since I was in fifth grade, my schools have held lockdown drills. And every year since then, my teachers have told me that this will never happen here—that I have nothing to be scared of.
But that’s not true: I do have to be scared that someone will come into my school and shoot me.
And underlying my fear is a question: What can I do?
This is a question that has plagued me since I was in eighth grade, when Tamir Rice was shot and killed in Cleveland. He was 12; I was 13. If a gun could kill a 12-year-old, I wondered, why couldn’t it kill me?
This question resurfaced for me after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month. I thought for days about what I could possibly do to stop this from ever happening again. That is when I found my classmate Maddie. She had posted on her Instagram story about the plan for a nationwide school walkout on March 14, and I immediately sent her a direct message asking if we could plan this walkout together at the school we attend, Midwood High School in Brooklyn. She agreed.
I had always thought our school lockdown drills were pointless; I mean, a shooting could never happen in New York, right?
Now I feel extremely naive.
Since Parkland, I have come to the terrifying realization that a shooting can just as easily happen at my school. I started to think about all the victims of the shooting and wondered if maybe they once thought as I had—that this could never happen to them. Did they ever worry about a shooter showing up at their school? Did their parents ever think they would lose one of their children?
I started to think about what would happen if there was a shooting at Midwood, and I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would feel if I lost one of my friends, teachers, or anyone for that matter. It made me realize how important it is for everyone, especially students, to speak up about gun control.
I thought about how much Americans value democracy and having their voices heard, yet I was perplexed that so few people were speaking out. Too many have been senselessly murdered as a result of guns being in the wrong hands. I wanted to do something about it.
We did not know each other much before we started organizing the walkout. It is quite sad, yet beautiful, how something so terrible could bring us together. After we connected, we immediately started working out the details of the walkout. We created a Facebook page that in one day had more than 30 likes from other kids at our school. We also created an Instagram account that currently has 186 followers; the numbers are growing everyday. Each time we get a notification that someone new is following us, we instantly brighten up. It is amazing to feel like you’re playing a part in change, even if it is small.
We wrote a letter to the school staff over winter break encouraging teachers to allow open discussion about gun control in their classrooms and inviting them to join us in the walkout. We printed over 100 copies and stuffed them in the mailboxes of teachers and other staff the day we got back. Their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. We know that this isn’t the case for all other schools, so we could not be more grateful for our staff.
The primary goal of our walkout is to allow students to have an open discussion about gun control. For so many of us, schools and teachers are the primary source of our information. How are we supposed to get different perspectives if we’re not talking about it amongst ourselves?
We hope that this will force people to actually think about guns and their impact on our lives. We want our peers to formulate their own opinions on gun control. We have already had countless students come up to us and say that they have learned more about the issue of gun control from our Instagram than they have ever learned in school.
After police brutally attacked civil rights protesters on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”
The only way we will inspire change on gun control is if we all speak out. It is vital that every student is heard.
Naomi Giancola and Maddie Paterna are students at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, New York.