I grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, zoned into two of the best public high schools. I attended public school from kindergarten through sixth grade. The most danger I had experienced throughout my elementary school years was in second grade when Michael Krancer closed the door on a big wooden wardrobe leaving me trapped inside. I was hysterical. My mother told me that the boy probably liked me, which made absolutely no sense to my seven-and-a-half-year self, and put me off boys for years. In fourth grade, I got called out once by Barbara Goldstein to meet in the lobby after school. I had no idea what that meant, but apparently, she had caught me staring at her and was ready for a fight. The rules were that I could bring my best friend as backup. At 3:15 we gathered with our besties and took turns pulling each other’s hair.
In the second half of my 6th grade year, my parents brought me to a private school in Brooklyn Heights to take some entrance exams and the next year when my classmates went off to Hudde Junior High School or Catholic School, I went to private school. I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t know about the fight with Barbara Goldstein two years prior. I didn’t tell anyone. I was too scared of her. But I knew they were concerned about my safety. My parents sent me off to private school because they were nervous about Hudde being “rough.”
As I approached ninth grade, the question was whether to head back to public school as had always been intended, or stay in private school. At the public high school I’d be in a class of about 500 students. My closest friends were switching to another private school, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. My parents decided to swing for it. There would be a total of 86 freshman starting that year.
And yes, I knew I was privileged, and felt a little guilty about it. But I did have an outstanding high school experience, both in academics and extracurricular activities. And I always knew my parents had my best interest top of mind. I never questioned my safety. And I never saw a gun. Frankly, I doubt any of those kids at the public high school did either—I’m not sure about the ones who braved Hudde.
This country has certainly seen its share of gun violence in the schools throughout history—some unintentional, some not, many against specific teachers—a direct challenge to authority. By the middle of the twentieth century with the rise of gangs, schools started seeing more student-on-student violence, most prevalent in inner-city schools.
But in 1999 when two young men walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and shot and killed twelve students and one teacher, all of America was in shock. This is not what my parents had been protecting me from. This was beyond imagination. One of those kids was carrying a semi-automatic weapon—an Intratec TEC-DC9 9mm submachine pistol, with 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines. This was originally a fully-automatic handgun designed for the Apartheid South African government to compete with the Israeli Uzi. Twelve students were killed in an American school by a student carrying a weapon meant for serious combat.
This also wasn’t the first episode of a mass shooting in modern U.S. history, but it was one of the deadliest and it happened in a place where we send our kids every day. But it felt random. Somehow the growing mass shootings all felt so random—until 2012, when we saw the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July, and another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that August. And then there was that day in December, the day before my birthday, where from the TV situated in the middle of the Porter Novelli New York office, I watched the events of the day unfold. Two of my friends—a couple from my theater-buddy network—had moved from Sunnyside, Queens to the safe embrace of Newtown, Connecticut to raise a family. Their two young children attended Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I remember the constant contact with my larger network of friends as we chatted in confusion wondering if nine-year-old Nate and six-year-old Ben were accounted for. Nate, yes. Phew. But somehow, we hadn’t heard exactly where Ben was. At 3:30 pm it seemed Ben had still not come out of that school. And we waited. And waited. And no other children walked out.
I have watched my friend and her husband grieve this unimaginable grief in the years since. I have grieved with them. I have beheld them in amazement and pride as they have visited with other communities fallen victim to yet another shooting, and as they struggle to make something positive come of all this. Meetings with politicians, speaking engagements, reading, learning. Trying to understand every side of this crazy debate.
And I have grappled with the question: Why does the right to keep and bear Arms supersede Ben’s right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness? Or perhaps a more realistic question: can the two co-exist? What can we do to protect our children? What can we do to ease our minds so that when we tell our children that yes, they definitely have to go to school, we are not ridden with guilt for the rest of our lives not having kept them, that one day, safe at home? What can we change?
According to a Washington Post study, there has been an average of 10 school shootings per year since Columbine, with a low of five in 2002 and a high of 15 in 2014. In 2018 alone this country has already seen a dozen, including February’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen more lives. And all those grieving families left in its wake. Of the 10 deadliest shootings over the last decade, seven involved the use of assault weapons.
Should a civilian really be able to access these weapons of war? These guns have no other purpose than to fire as many bullets as possible and indiscriminately kill anything they are pointed at with terrifying speed.
Inspired and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop what is becoming an epidemic of mass school shootings, thousands will take to the streets this weekend in Washington, D.C. and in sibling events all over the world to demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and that we end gun violence in our schools and communities.
Until now, each school shooting has earned massive media coverage and inspired new foundations and organizations, but has also divided communities and neighborhoods, and has exhausted and broken the parents and families torn over the politics of guns. But this time feels different. This time feels like once too often. This feels like the time we have to say, “Never Again.”
At 11 am on March 24, I know where I will be.