Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in your classroom in an idyllic small town, when you start hearing gunshots. Your teacher tries to sound calm, but you hear the fear in her voice as she tells you to go hide in your cubby. She says, “be quiet as a mouse,” but the sobs of your classmates ring in your ears. In four minutes, you hear more than 150 gunshots.
You’re in the first grade. You wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus and magic. You’re excited about losing your front teeth. Your parents still prescreen PG-rated films so they can prepare you for things that might be scary in them.
And yet here you are, living through a horror few can fathom.
The trauma of any school shooting is hard to imagine, but the Sandy Hook massacre was in a league of its own. These were first graders. Twenty babies, shot and killed in a matter of minutes. Six educators who tried to protect them.
That was nine years ago. Now the kids that survived Sandy Hook are in high school, and some of them are opening up about their experiences. Their voices deserve to be heard.
In February of this year, Sandy Hook survivor Ashley shared her story with NowThis News. Some of the scenario above was taken from her account:
Sandy Hook Survivor Speaks Out for the First Time
Ashley was 7 when she went through the trauma of Sandy Hook. She said she has experienced survivor’s guilt and the pain of people claiming that the shooting was a hoax. “I can’t give you proof except for my trauma,” she said.
Another Sandy Hook survivor, Maggie LaBlanca, shared her story at this year’s National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence last week. Her best friend, Daniel, was killed in the shooting.
“It’s been almost nine years since I endured that day. Everything has stayed with me so clearly,” she said. “The trauma never went away, and I still feel sad all the time that I’m here and they’re not. I look for Daniel everywhere because it’s hard to accept that I lost him.”
We mourn those who are killed in school shootings and focus on the numbers of deaths, but the survivors deserve just as much of our thought and emotion. It’s traumatic for anyone to have a loved one murdered or to witness someone being killed in front of them. In the worst scenarios, both of those things happen at the same time. And when it’s children who are the witnesses, that’s just a tragedy none of us should accept as normal.
This TikTok video from a Sandy Hook survivor sums it up succinctly.
These poor babies.pic.twitter.com/lpFQV5VCW9
— aunt cookie (@aunt cookie)
At the time, we thought Sandy Hook had to be the last straw. We thought surely 6-year-olds shot and killed in their classrooms would change things. Our lawmakers would surely unite to take action—to do something, anything—to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening. People pleaded. Activists organized. And our laws have barely budged, especially at the federal level, where they have the greatest chance of actually being effective.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Most Americans agree on some very basic gun legislation. A 2019 poll reported by Politico showed that 70% of Americans support banning assault weapons, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans. Also in 2019, a National Public Radio (NPR), PBS NewsHour and Maris College poll found that 83% of Americans want Congress to pass legislation requiring background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or via other private sales.
Why wouldn’t we want to make it harder for abusers or people with a history of violent or threatening behavior to get firearms? Why wouldn’t we want to make it harder for troubled teens to get a hold of guns in their household?
Gun rights activists will argue that no law will prevent all shootings, which is true. The U.S. has far too many guns in circulation to curb all gun violence. But some will prevent some, and some is better than none, especially when we’re raising generations of kids who have to practice what to do if a gunman starts shooting up their school.
What we have now is not normal. It’s not freedom. It’s a tragic embarrassment and a stain on our nation—one that we don’t have to accept without a fight. We owe these kids at least that much.