A Freeman alum reflects on this week's deadly gun violence at her high school

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I’m a Freeman Scottie — class of 1999. I was born in 
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Valleyford, and went to Freeman schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Of the roughly 70 of us who graduated that year, about a dozen of us went through K-12 together. We called ourselves “13-year survivors.”

My father was a Freeman graduate, too: class of 1965. He was a center on the  varsity football team and sometimes donned the giant Scottie dog head to be the mascot. My brother, Jon, also attended Freeman, and was one of the alternative school's early graduates. When he died of cancer less than a year after graduation, the community came together to celebrate his life in the elementary school gym. To me, it felt like the whole world was there.

Freeman is my family.

When I heard that my alma mater experienced a fatal shooting on Sept. 13, I was swamped by grief. I knew the parents of two of the girls who were shot. When the news talked about specific teachers helping in the aftermath, I knew who they were. Some of them were my teachers, too.

And when the Spokesman-Review described where the shooting took place, I was transported to the hall outside the science classroom. It was like I was standing right there. Of course, the building is different now and the lab is in a completely different place, but that didn’t matter. Anyone who went to Freeman probably did the same thing.

I spent the whole day watching the news through Facebook and reading every scrap of information that came out from officials. I watched them talk about people and places I knew, feeling weightless, disconnected, disbelieving. I messaged with old friends, checking on them, making sure they were OK. All the time, my heart was breaking in a million pieces for a place that to me still felt safe and innocent. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not here.

Reports say that the shooter had an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a handgun. We are just now starting to hear about where he got the guns, and why he did what he did. The Spokane County Sheriff says it was “a bullying-type situation,” and that the shooter wanted to show the consequences of that bullying.

Bullying is not OK, but neither is violence, and what the shooter did was wrong and selfish. It ruined lives. There is no excuse for what he did.

What I keep thinking about is how this kid — still a child — had access to these weapons. I doubt that he, or his parents, or whoever gave him access, is part of a “well-regulated militia.” And it seems to me that an AR-15 is a bit much for hunting deer, although I’m told that it happens. No, an AR-15 is really for killing people. It’s for protecting your home from others who would do you harm. Many people believe the world has become a dangerous place and defending yourself against it is not only a right, but a requirement.

I disagree, and I’m sure now my words are dismissable, because I’m clearly a commie, liberal, gluten-free vegetarian, who wishes we had socialized medicine and misses President Obama. What’s worse than all that? I left. I live on “the coast” and work for what some would call an environmental organization. I have no credibility when it comes to farm life, because I chose a different path.

Yes, I am all of those things, and I did leave. But, in my 18 years in Valleyford, I never liked guns. We had one rifle, in pieces spread all over our house so my little brother and I couldn’t accidentally hurt ourselves with it. The gun was used for ending the lives of animals that were suffering with injury or illness. It wasn’t used for protection or to inflict harm. Later, my brother had a BB gun, but I remember that being a short-lived fascination for him. Guns just weren’t part of my childhood.

You know what? I don’t think an AR-15 — or a handgun, or any weapon primarily used to kill people — should be part of anyone’s childhood. I think children should be taught to defend themselves with their wits and words, not guns.

The Second Amendment was written at a time when our country was just emerging from a war that gave us our independence. It was a time when we had allies with armies, but no army of our own, and a well-regulated militia was necessary for the security of a free state. Times have changed, and I believe our laws about guns have to change too.

Just before I graduated in 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, killed 12 students, one teacher, and injured 21 others, before turning their guns on themselves. They had myriad weapons, including a TEC-9 semiautomatic handgun, shotguns, and explosive devices. They went to school armed to cause as much destruction as they could. That day is the first time I remember feeling that school could be a place where bullying could turn into death.

After Columbine, the FBI found that between 2000 and 2013, our country endured 27 “active shooter” situations in schools that resulted in 52 deaths. I think we can all agree that even one school shooting is too many, but these incidents are still happening. We have to change how we approach this problem if we hope to reverse this trend. We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. We can’t buy more guns and expect to be safer.

I’m not making my community’s tragedy into a political issue — it already is a political issue. It’s because of politics that Gallup reports that 55 percent of Americans believe that laws to get a gun should be more strict than they are now, but Congress won’t budge. Not even in the aftermath of a December 2012 school shooting that ended the lives of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was the Senate able to push through a bill that would have made it harder to get a gun, because the gun lobby is too strong.

Politics is what keeps us from moving forward, and we simply must move forward. I’m tired of seeing #notonemore and seeing the standard line from elected officials on Twitter of “thoughts and prayers” for victims and their families. We need more than thoughts and prayers. We need solutions and action.

My Freeman family is hurting right now. They’re hurting because a sick kid got ahold of a couple of guns and did “something stupid” and wrong, and life-changing, and life-ending. The next few months and years for this community will be difficult. People will be deified and demonized while we search through the facts and the fiction to find the truth in this tragedy. While all this is happening, I hope that my community will remember to love each other, that none of us is perfect, and that all we can do is the best we can. That’s the Scottie Spirit that I’ve carried with me to my new home across the state, and the spirit that will persevere as long as there’s a school called Freeman.