By Ashley Frechette
If you’re over the age of 25, you probably remember the DC Sniper attacks from October of 2002. Do you need a moment to think back to that autumn? It’s ok, I did too.
Driving home tonight I could feel my anxiety building. This week has been exhausting — I’ve had nothing but classrooms of stressed out and moody teenagers all week. I felt my chest starting to constrict, heart start racing, and the bubble of anxiety rising up into my throat.
We’ve all been under immense stress since the terrible tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Teachers have been worrying about how we’re going to keep our classes safe and what is potentially being asked of us by the administration that’s currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Our students are worrying about how the adults in charge are going to keep them safe. It’s enough to make anyone begin to collapse. But that wasn’t the source of my anxiety tonight.
Maybe it was because of the car that sped up next to me on the on-ramp of the highway; impatiently trying to ride next to me in a single lane that sent my mind back into a terrified state, but I was instantly reminded of the DC Sniper. How we lived in fear. I remember watching the news with my parents, hearing about it, realizing I need to watch everywhere I walk and be overly aware of my surroundings. This was my first foray into gun violence, but it will not be the last.
On April 16, 2007 I was sitting in Spanish class. I distinctly remember my lovely teacher, and I faintly remember the countries project we were working on. As I was debating which country to focus my project on, I remember the barrage of text messages that came flooding my classmates cell phones. Whispers began to circulate, some seniors were crying, and finally someone pulled up the news on their cell phone. A tragedy had struck Virginia Tech. This would be my first taste of fear in a safe space, but it wouldn’t be my last.
On July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, someone attacked innocent patrons at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. He entered through an emergency exit and shot the crowd of patrons. As a lifelong Harry Potter fan, I have been to more than my fair share of midnight movie releases. When Aurora happened, I became paralyzed with fear. That could have been me. The next time I would step into a movie theatre, I became hyper aware of my surroundings. I made sure to have a clear line of sight to the exits, I paid close attention to every single person who entered that theatre, and every loud sound made me jump. I was not there in Aurora, but I knew it could have happened anywhere.
December 14, 2012. I was a college student working at a children’s museum. Watching the news about Sandy Hook left me devastated and scared. My co-workers and I could not fathom how someone could do that to kids, and we immediately began asking our managers if we could have active shooter trainings. We mapped out plans in our heads; where we could go, how we could hide, roughly how many guests we could safely hide, how we could barricade doors. These were things that we should not have had to plot out. We were so young, but we knew we had a great responsibility to our patrons to help keep them safe.
June 10, 2016. I was working at a theatre. Tragically, Christina Grimmie’s life was cut short in the lobby of a theatre where she had just performed at a meet and greet. That could have been at my theatre. Despite best efforts, our theatre had very little in terms of security. Sure they beefed it up for the next few performances, but that never made us feel safe. Another workplace to be afraid of. Another place that once felt safe, now ripped away.
October 1, 2017. Another concert attack. This time, 58 people have died. A meticulously planned slaughter. The event had security, unfortunately not from the bullets that would rain down from the sky. This could have been prevented. He was armed to the teeth, firing over 1,100 rounds. The shooter had stockpiled 24 guns in his hotel. Why was he allowed to have this many? How did no one notice? Tragedy strikes again.
February 14, 2018. I am now a teacher at a high school trying to wrap my head around the news coming out of Florida. The next day, a fire alarm unexpectedly goes off at our school. I’m torn — do we go out as expected or do we make a dash for the nearest classroom. Is this real, a sick joke, or is there another danger? As I’m leading my class outside a student turns to me, “this is how Florida started” he says. I know, I reply, just keep going, move fast and don’t look back. I tried to reassure them that it would be ok, but I did not know if it was. I had no idea what was waiting for us outside and whether or not it would all be ok. We silently returned to our classrooms, teachers and students both frustrated and scared.
Eight instances of mass violence. Eight instances of a gun being in the hands of someone it shouldn’t have. Eight instances of having a safe haven cruelly ripped away.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about arming teachers. This seems to be the only idea some politicians have. I do not want to be armed. Arming me will not make my students safer. If everyone is armed, how can we differentiate between who the suspect is? What happens if a student gets ahold of one of the teachers weapons? What happens if a teacher snaps?
What if, what if, what if?
I read a terrifying story today of a case of mistaken identity from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A student locked himself in the auditorium soundbooth because it was the safest place he knew of. He thought he was being rescued when he heard the police pounding on the door. Instead the SWAT team pointed their guns at him and searched him. They thought he was the shooter.
What happens when a teacher is armed? Instantly, we all become suspects. Precious time is being lost evaluating teachers while a real suspect could be on the loose. How does that make us safer? If the day ever comes that I am required to be armed as part of my job, then it will be the day I resign. I did not become a LEO. I did not enlist in the military. I am a teacher.
One argument I’ve seen a lot of is that we should not ban AR-15’s because it “won’t end all of the violence and mass shootings” but isn’t one enough? If we just could have stopped Aurora, or Sandy Hook, or Marjory Stoneman Douglas, wouldn’t that have been enough? How many more have to die before we finally decide as a society that enough is enough?
I won’t pretend to have all of the answers. I don’t know how we begin to solve all of the problems that face us. But I do know it starts with a conversation. It starts with removing lobbyists from politics. It starts by listening. We need to make smart changes. We need to have stricter background checks, no reciprocity, and no bump stocks. I don’t want to take everyone’s guns away. I just would really like to be picky about who has them and what types they have. Maybe that’s not the right way to handle this, but how do we know until we try? If just one life is saved, just one mass casualty avoided, isn’t that enough? Wouldn’t it be worth it to not have to bury any more children?
In times of great tragedy, we look to those in power for a direction, a way out of the darkness. A way to move forward and make change. Through it all, Dave Brat has remained silent. I’ve scoured the depths of the internet and social media for something from him. I’ve yet to find a statement about Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I’m ashamed of you, Mr. Brat. You’ve stood by and let this happen. You have sold yourself to the NRA, and you’ve sold your constituents short. You don’t care about us. It’d be easier on all of us if you would just admit it. You like your job and the money, and you like pushing your personal beliefs on everyone, but you don’t care about Virginia. If you did, you’d listen to us. You’d hold publicly announced town hall meetings, you’d answer our questions, and you’d respond to us. We’ve reached out. Social media, articles, phone calls. You ignore everyone who does not agree with you. How nice it must be up in your castle where everything is sunshine and daisies. How nice it must be to not have to face reality.
In this time of great tragedy, I’m choosing to turn to the helpers. To those who are picking up the pieces and making change. I’m turning towards the courageous students who have faced more than any teenager should have to face at such a young age but who have shown incredible resilience. I’m choosing hope.