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My Worst Fears Came True the Day a Gunman Opened Fire at My Kids’ School. We Must Do Better—and Here’s Where We Start

My Worst Fears Came True the Day a Gunman Opened Fire at My Kids’ School. We Must Do Better—and Here’s Where We Start

By Beth Gebhard
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On March 27, 2023, a seemingly ordinary, beautiful spring Monday in Nashville, a heavily armed gunman stormed the halls of my children’s small elementary school and killed six people before losing their own life, as well. 

My son sat crouched, frozen in fear, clutching his classmates beside him in his second-grade classroom adjacent to the third-grade classroom where most of the assault and damage occurred. The iconic photo that ran in every newspaper that day and beyond featuring a trail of children walking hand-in-hand out of the building to safety includes my daughter, her back showing her long brown hair tied in a low ponytail against the Covenant School fleece she’d begged me to buy her, holding the hand of her fellow fourth grade classmate.

It is still surreal and yet, so very real. 

Our lives will never be the same. Grocery stores and malls are teeming with menacing-looking people. No one can be trusted anymore. Busy restaurants with television screens carrying the news of the day are no longer tolerable. We’ve learned deep breathing exercises to calm our nerves from the sounds of police cars and ambulance sirens. Uninterrupted sleep is a gift. 

In the aftermath of the shooting at my kids’ school, many talked about the “evil” that walked into our school that day, the “evil” our children and faculty encountered, and the “evil” that tried to take us down. It was a perspective that felt uncomfortable for me and still does, because it’s not how I think about what happened that horrific day. Honestly, I wish I did. I desperately want to see the shooter as evil, as the sole villain in this awful story, to condemn them, and tend to the broken pieces of my heart believing this as fact. But, for me, it’s the shades of gray in this story that peek out at me and haunt me today.

The Covenant School shooter, who was undergoing care for an emotional disorder, legally purchased seven guns from five different gun stores and stored them secretly at the home she shared with her parents. Her parents claim they didn’t know about it and have gone on the record to say their child should not have had access to weapons. 

It begs the question: Who is responsible for what happened that terrible day?

Is it the shooter, possessed by “evil?” Is it a system that enables the opportunity for someone like the shooter to enact their evil plan? Should blame be placed on Tennessee's overwhelming lack of effective firearm laws? Should we point our fingers at our elected officials who, despite the overwhelming majority of Tennessee citizens on both sides of the aisle in unified support of stronger gun safety legislation, ruthlessly and cowardly refuse to vote in favor of such important measures? 

Or should we turn our attention to ourselves? Should those who voted for and continue to support our elected officials who do nothing to keep us and our children safe take some responsibility? Should those of us who don’t exercise our constitutional right to vote for and support the campaigns of those fighting for meaningful change, choosing to turn a blind eye to all of this, assume some of the blame as well?

For me, there’s no clear-cut formula as to why this happened and who’s responsible. But there is this hard-to-swallow truth: Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. And in my home state of Tennessee, we rank among the top 10 states with the highest rates of firearm violence in the country. 

We must do better than this. We can do better than this.

After the Covenant school shooting, the Nashville community embraced us in ways that we could never have imagined. Nearly every mailbox was tied with red and black bows—our school colors. Nearly every yard carried signs of support saying “I stand with Covenant.” One year later, many of those signs remain.

But if you, too, stand with Covenant, then it must mean that you, too, feel deep sorrow for what happened in our school that day. It must mean that you wouldn’t want this to happen to your kids or grandkids. Which means it’s time for all of us to take action.

I’ll admit that before this all happened to me, I was among the many who blindly cast a rather uninformed party line vote each election and chose to “stay out of politics.” We all have enough on our proverbial plates to add one more task or one more worry to the mix. I didn’t pay attention because I didn’t have time to. But when you get a text from your children’s school that says “Active shooter inside the building,” and you wait and wonder, in agony, if your children survived such unthinkable violence, you realize that not caring is no longer an option. 

This Mother’s Day, my hope is that fewer mothers will face this upending kind of trauma. That communities like mine won’t have to grieve with the mothers who did have to bury their children as a result of this kind of senseless tragedy. My hope is that more mothers—and all of us, really—will take action to fight for change. Educate yourself on your state and national laws. Contact your legislators. Register to vote. Get loud.  Better yet, join me and March Fourth—a non-profit, non-partisan organization with the goal of federally banning assault weapons—in Washington DC on June 4th for their second march and lobby event at the Capitol. 

My daughter will never wear that once-beloved fleece again. My son won’t touch the backpack he wore to school that terrible day. “You’re safe, trust me,” is a bargain I try to make with my kids most days. 

Despite their tender ages, they now know the truth. Bad things can and do happen. But they also know that humans are resilient, and that tragedy can also inspire change. 

Our children come into this world looking to us for everything that they need. We do all that we can—from providing for them, loving them, and supporting them. But it’s just not enough if we’re not also fighting for their protection. 

All of our kids are counting on us. Will you join me in trying to protect them?

Beth Gebhard is a mother of two young children and an advocate for gun safety. You can subscribe to her Substack, "A Little Dose of Encouragement," here.

The views expressed in Sunday Paper Guest Opinions are those of the authors and do not represent the views or positions of The Sunday Paper.

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