OPINION: Survival is my goal for the fall semester

Zachary Clifton, Commentary writer

I still remember the day that I texted my mom “I love you” from underneath a desk. I remember the distinction of my surroundings — the coolness of the air, the staleness of the silence and the flashing lights indicating a lockdown. I remember the fear consuming my mind and the angst arresting my physiological state.

My mind was immediately fixated on the possibility of death. Not alone — which I recognize is a luxury that many people never get. But, nonetheless, a violent, unjust and meaningless death. In those moments, my mind contemplated all that I appreciated about life; my twin brother, my parents, my sister and all of my friends.

Then regret set in. All of my goals would be left unresolved. All that I wanted for myself would never happen. All that I wanted to do for my community would be left undone.

That’s when the lights stopped flashing, the air returned to 72 degrees, the silence suspended and my body stopped aching. The lockdown was over.

Apparently, it was an accident. The impending fate of death, the exercise that served as a measure of life’s fragility and the possibility that millions of students face by attending school each day were all suspended in a moments notice.

My vulnerable contemplations and reflections were no longer relevant. They were no longer a revelation — rather, mere thoughts and musings.

This was the day that my opinions shifted on gun reform legislation.

My town is nestled in the hills of Appalachia — brandishing MAGA yard signs and 2A bumper stickers. Growing up in a place like Corbin, Kentucky, my opinions on guns had always been conservative. Guns were good for self-defense, protected by the second amendment and a necessary evil that our founding fathers had mandated in our nation’s founding document.

Today, my opinion could not be more clear — no one needs an AR-15, AK-47 or any other weapon of mass destruction.

In the wake of Uvalde, tragedy should be seared into the minds of us all. While many adults are able to pull themselves together in the face of school violence and disaster, it is us students that continue to put our lives at risk by attending school.

Statistically, I am safe from mass shootings. But so were students in Newtown, Parkland, and Uvalde — until they weren’t. Until their parents waited for a dozen hours to identify their bodies. Until the spouses of the perished faculty died of a broken heart. Until the dreams, aspirations and hopes of a class of first graders, fourth graders and high schoolers were suddenly stolen and disposed of.

While Congress passed legislation in response to Uvalde, this school year will soon become the next one afflicted by gun violence. While I hope this is not the case, the United States’ championing of guns and abandonment of students all but guarantees the renewal of America’s most tragic story.

The innocence of a child is such a beautiful thing. But the innocence of a child ensures their vulnerability and fragility. The adults that are their legal guardians have been stripped of their right to protect their kids.

Our Congress refuses to take necessary action and our law enforcement agencies have refused to take action against these atrocities — while simultaneously denying parents the right to protect or save their kids.

That’s why, this fall semester, my goal is survival.

Commentary writer Zachary Clifton can be reached at [email protected].