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Sam Henry and Pastor Bob Henry

Sam Henry and his father, Pastor Bob Henry

As a student and son of an elementary school teacher and Quaker minister, the issue of gun violence hits my family close to home. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting six years ago, my family has been on high alert. It was my first time witnessingand understanding such a tragedy.

A sixth-grader in Oregon, I distinctly recall watching alongside my horrified classmates and teachers while being overwhelmed at the realization that we would have been just as helpless as the Sandy Hook children. Whether it was outrage, distress, or the conviction that no child should live in fear of attending school, I knew I had to take a stand — no mean feat against the backdrop of the strong Oregon National Rifle Association presence.

Today, six years later, our family lives in Indianapolis. The NRA also has a strong presence here. So much so, they were just in town for their annual convention. I find the timing rather troubling given the somber anniversary we just commemorated: 20 years since the Columbine massacre claimed 13 children’s lives.

Since Columbine, The Washington Post reports gun violence has impacted more than 226,000 students at 223 American schools. And that number pales in comparison to the resounding effect of these traumas among students, families, and communities at large. Personally, Sandy Hook sparked an ever-present fear of another school shooting amplified by nonstop gun violence coverage.

Columbine was both alarming and revealing for my dad, Bob. He grew up here in Indiana in a family that didn’t own or promote guns. He jokes that, even before he was Quaker, his parents felt guns weren’t the way to solve problems. Now, as the leader of a local Quaker Meeting, he knows the responsibility of ensuring his members — as well as the co-op day care center — are protected against gun violence and harm.

He and my mom often discuss very real fears of school shootings happening here. In the 20 years since Columbine, my mother, Sue, a kindergarten teacher, has had to deal with the internal school politics and disagreements with fellow teachers and parents over the best approach to keeping the school safe. Having to parent during rampant gun violence (and a lack of political will to change it) is a continual worry for her.

Both our schools and my dad’s Quaker meeting have attempted to address gun violence in various ways. From a walk-out in solidarity with March for our Lives to opposing arming teachers and inviting experts to come discuss what to do in such an event, the topic is ever-present. And it’s reenergized every time another gun violence tragedy occurs. However, as with the disturbingly divisive politics that have become the soundtrack of this era, conversations about how to protect ourselves during an active shooter situation routinely divide our otherwise tight-knit community.

As Quakers, we believe in peace and our country’s ability to achieve it. In light of the Columbine anniversary and the recent NRA convention, my dad and I have felt compelled to lift our voices because it isn’t just gun violence that’s troubling. It’s the widespread propaganda around the gun industry and its role in “protecting” us that’s causing so much confusion and division. In a community where many consider an attack on gun laws as a personal affront, the situation is touchy. However, our lawmakers’ lack of motivation to pass common-sense gun laws has led to epidemic-level gun violence that leaves us all living in an awkward limbo between anxiety and complacency.

This culture of violence isn’t normal, and we must not become desensitized to that. Our Indiana lawmakers must enact legislation to reduce gun violence by limiting gun ownership, possession, and use. Universal background checks would be a significant start. It seems a lot simpler than forcing terrifying drills on young students, arming teachers and holding our breath as we wait for the next tragedy.

Sam Henry is a junior at Fishers High School in Indianapolis, IN. His father, Indiana native Robert S. Henry (Pastor Bob Henry) serves as pastor of Indianapolis First Friends. He and his wife, Sue, have two other sons and have committed their careers to social justice causes in Indiana and around the world. The opinions are the writers'.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.