Any educator will tell you that the start of school comes with a whole host of excitement for us, as well as its fair share of nerves.
For the educators in Newtown, Connecticut, back to school activities are accompanied by sadness and even grief, knowing our classrooms have fewer students than they should.
I am a teacher who survived the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School 20 months ago, when 20 of our students and six of our colleagues and friends were murdered in the sanctity of our elementary school. This fall, I’m turning the grief I feel with the beginning of a new school year teaching in Newtown into action: I am determined to do more to keep our schools and communities safe from gun violence.
The morning of December 14, 2012, my students were going to make snowflakes for the upcoming PTA luncheon. Instead, we huddled together, terrified. I read to them and we tried to sing Christmas songs to try to muffle the sounds of 154 bullets blasting through our elementary school.
Since that horrific day, there have been 74 shootings at or near American schools. Related campus-wide lockdown drills that require teachers to practice shielding our students from a live shooter on the premises is a new normal for many educators.
Some politicians have proposed bills that would arm teachers in our classrooms, as if we are also trained as law enforcement officers or sharpshooters.
But gun violence is not just a school-shooting problem. It can, and it does, happen in every town. Eighty-six Americans are killed with guns every day and eight of them are children or teens.
As Americans, we watch and read the news about gun violence in our schools, streets, shopping malls, places of worship, homes. And when gun violence does ravage your community, as it did to mine, you really have to wonder: Since our elected officials in Congress have the power to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, why haven’t they done so?
It’s going to take real leadership to end gun violence in this country. Educators, survivors, parents, law enforcement — we all must do our part. But after Congress failed to act this year despite support from 90% of Americans who want background checks on all gun sales, it’s clear that we need a change in leadership to enact meaningful reforms.
That’s why this November, educators, parents of school-aged children and all Americans must join the growing movement of people going to the polls and voting for candidates with gun sense and I urge all my fellow educators and Americans who care about the safety of our children to do the same.
Gun sense is the idea that we can do much more to keep our families and communities safe from gun violence — that we can protect people, as well as their second amendment rights, by supporting common sense measures that evidence shows will save lives.
I’m talking about closing the deadly loopholes that allow minors and dangerous people like felons and domestic abusers to easily access to guns. Promoting gun safety so American children are no longer exposed to unacceptable levels of risk in their homes and at friend’s houses. Supporting reasonable limits on where, when and how loaded guns are carried and used in public. And creating enforceable laws that address gun trafficking and fraudulent purchases to keep illegal guns off our streets.
As a teacher getting ready to go back to school in a community where gun violence took an unimaginable toll, I believe the best way to protect our students and protect ourselves is by voting for elected officials who will lead with gun sense.
Abbey Clements, a mother of two children, is a second-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. She is a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.