‘This is not normal’
Locals rally against gun violence
SARANAC LAKE — Brian Brady, a 15-year-old student at Northwood School in Lake Placid, remembers being in Kindergarten when he experienced his first active shooter drill.
As he’s grown up, active shooter drills and lockdowns — and news of school shootings across the country — have just been a part of his school experience. He said that it’s been “scary,” but he feels people are now “too normalized to it.”
“We’ve been taught how to barricade the doors, and I think our generation is finally accepting that this is not normal and that we need to act to end this gun violence epidemic,” he said.
Brady was the lead organizer of a March For Our Lives rally in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park on Saturday. The protest against gun violence, attended by more than 150 people, was part of a nationwide demonstration organized by March For Our Lives, an organization that advocates for gun control legislation. The organization was established after the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Brady said there was a point when he was “really fed up,” so he decided to join March For Our Lives as a volunteer for the organization.
The first March For Our Lives march was in Washington, D.C. in 2018. After the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24 — where an 18-year-old fatally shot 19 students and two teachers, and injured another 17 people — March For Our Lives put out a call to let its volunteers know that another march was being planned on June 11.
“I just decided to organize this event seeing the lack of events near me and knowing that we needed to take action against the gun violence epidemic,” Brady said.
Brady and other speakers at the rally on Saturday encouraged those in attendance to find out more about March For Our Lives and its policy proposals, to contact their elected officials and to register to vote.
“Anything could happen”
Lucy Thill, a 15-year-old sophomore at Saranac Lake High School, was one of a handful of people who spoke in front of the crowd of gathered protesters.
She told the story of an experience she had while she was in eighth grade, when the school had an active shooter drill. But because of a communication mixup, she and her classmates — as well as her teacher — were unaware it was a drill.
Thill described a traumatic experience of believing there was a shooting happening at her school while she, her classmates and her teacher hid in a supply closet.
“I remember looking at my teacher and she was holding the door shut, and the way that her body was positioned, I thought, ‘She’s guarding us. She’s protecting us. This is a school shooting,'” she said. “We sat and waited to hear gun shots.
“My friend looked at me and his eyes were so wide, and he said, ‘What if my brother is already dead?’ Because his brother was going to school at the high school. That hadn’t occurred to me. My dad teaches at the high school and at the time, my brother was there, too,” Thill added. “So suddenly it was this moment of, do I think it’s better if the shooter is in my school or in the high school? The question, ‘Do I want myself and my best friend to die, or do I want my brother and my dad to die?’ is not one that should be asked in any middle school.”
Thill spoke about waiting in fear as the minutes ticked by, hearing sounds in the hallway and thinking about what she and her classmates may have to listen to. She said it felt like hours had passed when an announcement came over the intercom letting them know they could go back to their classroom.
“It was just an elementary school drill in the event of a school shooting,” she said. “They hadn’t informed our teacher because she was a high school teacher so she didn’t know, and we were a middle school class.
“It was just a normal day. A normal drill for elementary school,” she added.
Thill said she went back to class and went home afterward, and she felt the need to speak on behalf of the students across the country who didn’t get the chance to do the same.
There have been 119 school shootings since 2018 and 27 so far this year, according to Education Week. Education Week’s figures include incidents on a school property or bus, either while school was in session or during a school-sponsored event, where a firearm was discharged and where a person had a bullet wound as a result of a firearm being discharged. So far this year, 27 people have died in school shootings, according to Education Week.
“With just the school shootings … everyday it’s like, today is a new day and anything could happen,” Thill told the Enterprise. “But then, also with COVID, with climate change, every day also kind of feels like, are we on the edge of the world ending? How are we going to fix all of this when it’s our turn? Just being in the school building is scary, thinking about my future is terrifying.”
Thill said she finds hope in students like Brady, and her teachers at the Saranac Lake Central School District who empower her with knowledge.
“There are people on our side who are looking for a change,” she said.
Nancy Murphy, a Vermontville resident, was part of the crowd that showed up to the rally Saturday.
Murphy said in the past, she’s done some phone banking for national gun control organizations. She’s heard arguments from people from all different walks of life, both for and against gun control.
According to a recent poll by PBS NewsHour, National Public Radio and Marist, 59% of Americans believe curbing gun violence is a higher priority than protecting gun rights, up from 49% following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. But the issue seems to be divided among party lines, with 92% of Democratic voters ranking gun violence control as a higher priority than protecting gun rights, compared to 20% of Republican voters. However, the majority of Americans surveyed, 86%, said they would vote for a Congressional candidate who supports increased funding for mental health screening and treatment; 82% backed requiring universal background checks; and 74% supported the passing of “red flag” laws. In New York state, the Red Flag Law allows judges to issue a “red flag” order to allow law enforcement to temporarily remove weapons from the home of a person deemed at risk of posing a danger to themselves or others.
“No one of these various fixes that they’re talking about will cure the problem,” Murphy said. “The problem is not going to be cured totally. Every single one of these fixes reduces the number of deaths, saves somebody’s life.
“We’ve got to start somewhere, and we’ve got to start now,” she added.
Teachers speak out
Two teachers, one from Lake Placid’s Northwood School and another from the Saranac Lake Central School District, spoke at the rally on Saturday.
Noel Carmichael, dean of faculty and academic affairs at Northwood School, and Brady’s teacher, wrote in a statement read by Heather O’Dell Saturday that she considers the U.S. to be “the greatest nation on Earth,” but feels “complacency has penetrated the fabric of what it means to be American.”
“It’s unfathomable to live in a nation where children are slaughtered as they strive to attain what is rightfully theirs: An education,” she wrote. “It’s unfathomable to live in a nation where parents send their children off to school wondering if this might be the last wave goodbye. It’s unfathomable to live in a nation where teachers are not always trusted to choose books for children, but trusted instead to carry arms in their hallways. … We have let this become our reality. As an educator, I ask my students: What can we do to change that? What will we do to change our reality?
“I’d like Brian to know that it’s actions like his that truly do offer a glimmer of hope,” Carmichael wrote. “I’d like all my students to know that they can make a difference, no matter how small, and that it is absolutely, 100% their responsibility to do so. Effecting change can not happen without empathy and understanding.”
Carmichael said that equipping her students with “the idea that they are able to make a difference” is how she deals with what she “cannot make sense of, neither as a teacher or as a parent.”
Dwight Stevenson, a teacher at SLCSD, apologized to the students in the crowd.
“I’m sorry that my parent’s generation, and my generation, have failed to act,” he said. “I’m sorry that more than two decades after Columbine, we are once again a nation grieving. I’m sorry for national discourse that wants to blame violent media and violent video games, but not the weapons of war that plague our nation’s streets. I’m sorry that lockdowns and active shooter drills have become a part of our school day. But all of these apologies mean nothing without action. These apologies mean nothing without change.”
Stevenson spoke about his experience throughout his nearly decade-long teaching career and how the fear of school shootings has impacted him.
“In every classroom I’ve taught in, I’ve moved a bookcase up near the door, so that just in case, in the worst moment, I could slide that bookcase in front of the door, barricading that door for my students’ — and my — safety,” he said.
He expressed frustration about active shooter training he’s received.
“I’ve had to sit through trainings where we’ve been taught, just take classroom objects, use them as projectiles to harass active shooters who have come into our building. So while they’re armed with weapons of war, we’re armed with markers. Water bottles. Chalk,” he said. “If we want to arm our teachers, don’t arm them with guns. Arm our schools with adequate budgets. Arm our schools with budgets that will fund more counselors for mental health, more books. I have to suffer through this, our students have to suffer through this, because our elected officials have failed to act. We need to elect officials at all levels of government who will listen to our people, will listen to your young people, and who aren’t married to the gun lobby.”
He encouraged people to vote and expressed support for a variety of gun control measures, including the banning of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“We need to raise the standard for gun ownership in America. The Second Amendment is not absolute. Somewhere between wrist rockets and nuclear weapons, there is a line that all Americans agree, weapons that are not appropriate for civilians,” he said.
“One of the reasons I love teaching is that it fills me with hope,” Stevenson added. “I get to spend each and every day with our future. I see that future here today and I’m filled with hope because we have people like Brian and Lucy … and they are saying hope will not die.”