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We Need Stricter Gun Laws

  • Sarah Lerner was at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018 when a student killed 17 people.
  • She says mass shootings don’t surprise her anymore — but that they should’ve stopped with her school. 
  • Still dealing with PTSD, Lerner has joined other teachers in speaking out against gun violence.

I survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018. I was locked in my classroom with 15 students for about three hours until the SWAT team released us. Of the 17 victims, I had Jaime Guttenberg and Meadow Pollack as students and worked closely with Chris Hixon and Aaron Feis. 

I’ve lived in Coral Springs (the city next to Parkland) since moving from New York in 1995 and have been a teacher for 20 years — 16 years at the time of the shooting. This year is my eighth at the same school. I teach senior English and Intro to Journalism and I’m the yearbook adviser.

Over the past four years, I’ve used my voice and platform to speak out, all while dealing with trauma, healing, and the effects of PTSD.

Within the past few weeks we’ve seen two mass shootings in two very different parts of the country

The common thread is that both shooters were 18 years old and each possessed AR-15. While shootings don’t surprise me anymore, it shouldn’t have happened at my school — but it also should’ve stopped with my school. 

I found out about both shootings on Twitter. When I read about Buffalo, I immediately texted my cousin who is a reporter in Buffalo for WKBW. When I read about the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, I sank into the couch, horrified and sad that this keeps happening. 

So many questions ran through my head. Why haven’t lawmakers done anything since Columbine? Since Sandy Hook? Since Pulse? Since Parkland? 

Why does anyone need to own such a weapon of war, especially someone so young? Why are 50 senators so beholden to the NRA that they can’t or won’t pass gun reform legislation?

I cannot stop thinking about those faces, the innocent children gunned down at school. They had their whole lives ahead of them. I also can’t stop thinking about their teachers, who gave their lives to protect the lives of their students. This is what part of our job as teachers has become — but this should not be a part of our job.

There’s something funny about surviving trauma

Even though you went through a communal experience, you feel very isolated and alone. 

Sarah Lerner in a classroom wearing a hoodie with a heart.

Sarah Lerner in 2018.

Sarah Lerner

There was such an outpouring of love and support from across the country and all around the world after the shooting at my school. We had donations, an influx of mental health counselors and services, therapy dogs, and the Eagles’ Haven wellness center.  

I’ve always had a close relationship with my yearbook staff, but after February 14, 2018, everything changed. I made myself more available for them because I knew they needed me. If the students wanted to meet up for coffee or lunch, I’d make it happen. Being with them and helping them actually helped me through my healing process. 

Supporting fellow survivors is so important

Along with Sari Beth Rosenberg, a teacher in New York City, and Abbey Clements, a survivor of the Sandy Hook School shooting, I founded Teachers Unify. We’re an organization giving a voice to teachers, as it relates to issues surrounding guns and gun violence — a voice often left out of the conversation. 

After the shooting at my school, I edited and contributed two pieces to “Parkland Speaks,” published by Random House and released in Jan. 2019. The book contains artwork, photographs, poetry, prose, essays, and firsthand accounts from survivors. The contents of the book are so powerful and profound, and speak to the impact of gun violence and how those of us lucky enough to survive have to then move through this new space.

This is about all of us, and the public health crisis of gun violence

I hope that the sadness and anger people feel over Uvalde will propel them to vote in November. We need lawmakers who work to make change. We need background checks. We need stricter laws. We need to do away with untraceable ghost guns. We need safe storage laws.

All of this will be on the ballot.

It’s so shameful that 50 Senators are so beholden to the NRA that they refuse to do the right thing, for fear of losing their funding and support.

Our children deserve better. Our teachers deserve better. Our country deserves better.

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