I Taught At Sandy Hook — & Now I Need Your Help

Photo courtesy of Abbey Clements.
Abbey Clements is a survivor of the Sandy Hook School shooting and a volunteer leader with the Everytown Survivor Network and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The views expressed here are her own.

I feel it in the air as soon as it starts getting cold — the encroachment of December 14. This week will be four years since 20 children and six educators were shot and killed at Sandy Hook School, where I taught second grade. In the days, weeks, and months following the attack, the nation grieved alongside the community of Newtown. And many of us rallied around calls for changes to our gun laws. But four long years later, gun violence continues to ravage families and communities across the country. On average, 91 Americans a day are killed by guns, hundreds are injured, and even more are witnesses. The senseless losses in recent years have shaken schools, churches, nightclubs, and homes. Lives are stolen, damaged, and forever changed. Is this the country we want to be? Ask one teacher you know if schools are the same after the Sandy Hook shooting. They’re not. We have lockdowns, simulations, and a new fear of knowing that shootings can and do happen everywhere, including in K-12 schools. Ask one professor you know if college life is the same after the tragedies at Virginia Tech and in Isla Vista. They’re not. In nine states — and the gun lobby is fighting for more — colleges are forced to allow guns on campus. What could possibly go wrong?

I am still a teacher, in another school, in another grade. But now I also fight for a safer country alongside survivors of gun violence and advocates who refuse to accept the NRA’s 'guns everywhere' agenda.

I went to school to be a teacher, not a sharp shooter or first responder. That legislators have used school shootings to push for arming teachers rather than passing effective legislation to keep firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them in the first place is despicable. And what has President-elect Donald Trump vowed to do about the issue on his first day in office? Eliminate gun-free zones in schools, meaning that adults with little to no training could legally bring guns into classrooms. Again, what could possibly go wrong? I am still a teacher, in another school, in another grade. But now I also fight for a safer country alongside survivors of gun violence and advocates who refuse to accept the National Rifle Association’s “guns everywhere” agenda. Since the shootings in Newtown, we’ve fought hard and, in some cases, we’ve won. Eight states have strengthened or passed laws requiring background checks since December 2012. We’ve fought to keep guns out of K-12 schools and off college campuses. Major corporations like Starbucks, Target, Chipotle, and just recently, Levi’s, have acted to make their customers safer. A chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America now exists in every state to make sure legislators know their constituents care about gun safety. And now the volunteers of Moms Demand Action are organizing teachers, professors, administrators, paraeducators, staff, and faculty across the country who are concerned about gun violence in the education space. I, along with the entire gun violence prevention movement, am devastated over the results of the election. We voted for the gun-sense candidate. We voted for a woman who took on this issue as a cornerstone of her platform, unafraid of the power of the NRA leadership and the ingrained gun culture in America. She sat with, listened to, and stood alongside the "Mothers of the Movement" — Black women whose children were killed by the deadly nexus of racism and “shoot first, think later” gun culture. Together they are spreading their message across the country — sharing stories, delving into issues of racism and criminal justice reform, and bringing to the surface the truth that people of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence in our country.

We all have a responsibility to do everything in our power to bring an end to the devastation.

Hillary Clinton did not lose because of her strong stance on gun safety. In fact, voters chose to strengthen gun laws in three of the four states where gun safety was on the ballot. Now, nearly 50% of the country lives in a state where a background check is required on every gun sale. No one can predict what will happen during a Trump presidency. But whatever it is, giving up the fight is not an option when the stakes are so high. December is incredibly difficult for our community here in Newtown. And as the holidays approach, it’s also a time of grieving for so many across the country who are missing loved ones. The truth is, we all live with the effects of gun violence — whether it’s hearing about shooting after shooting on the nightly newscast, explaining the need for "lockdown drills" to children, or experiencing the terror of firearm-related violence firsthand. And we all have a responsibility to do everything in our power to bring an end to the devastation. Gun violence prevention advocates like me need your help more than ever to make clear to our elected officials that we won't stand for this any longer. So the question is: What are you willing to do to change things?

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