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Normal Community students stage walkout to demand tougher gun safety laws

Normal Community High School students (from left) Pritha Chatterjee, Lilly McClelland, Karthika Nair and Avani Rai pose for a photo behind a sign that references more than 6,000 children were injured or killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 2022.
Eric Stock
Normal Community High School students, from left, Pritha Chatterjee, Lilly McClelland, Karthika Nair and Avani Rai, stand behind a sign that references more than 6,000 children being injured or killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 2022.

Karthika Nair was in second grade when a student fired a gun at Normal Community High School in 2012. She says she knows people who had to make a split-second decision to save their lives that day.

Nair is now a senior at NCHS and gun violence against children still weighs on her mind, even if she feels relatively safe, primarily because of where she lives.

“We have been lucky to be in Illinois where we know at the very least there are laws that in some way protect our community, but we don’t know if that’s going to be the case when we leave,” Nair said.

She and several other Normal Community High School seniors organized a school walkout Wednesday to take a stand against gun violence. Hundreds of students took part in the noon event outside the school.

Part of a national campaign of students calling for tougher gun safety laws, it was organized by the group Students Demand Action.

Several Normal Community students raised concerns about feeling more as risk if they were to leave Illinois to go to college in another state where gun laws may be less strict.

“In Illinois, we are very lucky to have what we have now, but throughout the nation we would like to see a stronger hold on gun control,” said senior Lilly McClelland.

Normal Community High School
Eric Stock
A sign written in chalk in front of Normal Community High School was on display for an anti-gun violence rally on Wednesday.

Senior Pritha Chatterjee said after seeing yet another school shooting last week in Nashville, Tenn., she and many of her fellow students live in fear every time they walk into school.

“I have to because I see this on the news every single day,” Chatterjee said. “It is continuous. It is impossible to get rid of that fear.”

Chatterjee said walkout organizers want other students to know they can affect change and make their voices heard. The students didn’t offer specific gun proposals they would like to see, but Chatterjee called it “nonsensical” that someone could walk into a school with an assault rifle similar to the one used in the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville that left three children and three adults dead.

Student Avani Rai said she's been living with school shootings ever since the one at Sandy Hook in 2012. That's when many gun safety advocates lost hope for reforms. Rai hasn't. She points to the measure Congress passed last year that's intended to make schools safer. The nation’s most sweeping gun reform measure in nearly 30 years followed the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas last May when 21 people were killed.

“I felt (it) was a comprehensive step and a signal that we could set aside some of our differences to come together and make our country a better place, specifically when it came to gun reform,” Rai said.

That will happen more, she said, as children who don't know a life without school shootings become old enough to move into positions of power.

Students held up a sign that indicated more than 6,000 children were injured or killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and more than 349,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since 1999.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.