June 29, 2022

‘Children are not well,’ student organizer says after latest school shooting

Freddy Monares Four years ago, before at least 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in Uvalde, Texas, students in Montana joined thousands of others across the country to come out of classrooms and demand an action on what was, at the time, the last murder in class. Today we reconnect with one of the organizers of Helena Youth Against Gun Violence. Clara McRae was a senior in high school when she and her classmates formed the band in 2018. She speaks again with MTPR’s Corin Cates-Carney.

Corin Cates-Carney Last time we spoke, you were a senior in high school and the Parkland school shooting had just happened. Seventeen people died there. Do you remember how you felt when you learned what had happened?

Clara McRae Yes, it was extremely scary. And I think I probably felt a lot of anger, but I think mostly fear. I think with the spread of social media, fear can also spread much further geographically, even when these cases occur outside of our own communities.

Corin Cates-Carney And a month after that shooting, you were among thousands of students across the country who walked out of class demanding something be done about it. Now, four years later, there’s been another shooting in Texas this time around, and the students are once again organizing and planning class outings. How does it feel to see that happen again?

Clara McRae It’s heartbreaking. It’s really, really sad because I think it mostly shows that the kids aren’t doing well. And whether it’s because of gun violence or poor mental health or for whatever reason, children clearly feel like they’re unprotected and unsafe. at school. And that’s heartbreaking to me, because this should be the time in your life when you’re allowed to be a kid and not focus on things like the future.

Corin Cates-Carney Did you feel like you had to grow up faster?

Clara McRae I think I did, yeah. And I think everybody who went to school when there was shooting did, and ever since I thought about it, you know, my parents’ generation had drills Cold War lockdown. So it’s not a new phenomenon.

Corin Cates-Carney Part of your answer in 2018 was to join your classmates to form the group Helena Youth Against Gun Violence. You helped draft a gun safety bill and it was submitted to lawmakers. What did he ask and how did it happen?

Clara McRae So our gun safety bill started out as a child access prevention law, which would have – essentially, it was a goal to incentivize gun owners to use safe storage. He turned the sausage-making process into an NRA-backed bill that would have introduced gun safety education in schools. It failed; the bill failed. It actually passed the State House, then failed on an explosive motion in the Senate. But I think most of all, our goal with it was just to get noticed by the adults. And I think we succeeded. Whether or not we were noticed in a way that actually brought about change is up for debate. But I think the ultimate message that we were trying to get across was that we were terrified of going to school and that we didn’t feel safe there and that we wanted the people we – who present are in charge of doing something about it. And they ultimately didn’t.

Corin Cates-Carney Did you learn anything from this experience?

Clara McRae I think at the end of the day, violence and fear tend to breed more violence and fear. I don’t know if there is a way to regulate guns in this country at this point. I think that even though interest groups have made this nearly impossible to do, it’s just too polarized. Like, A, it’s impossible to get a bill drafted and passed through Congress. And B, it’s just that guns mean something entirely different to every American. So you’re not regulating the same thing. It’s less about particular groups than people involved. All good politics is relationship building. And so any policy that’s meant to divide and keep people on different pages probably isn’t — is probably going to continue to breed that kind of fear and violence.

Corin Cates-Carney You said guns mean different things to different people. What do they mean to you?

Clara McRae Guns mean a lot of different things to me. They mean way too much to me, actually. As I don’t know what they mean at this point. Like, growing up, they were just one thing. They were like a hunting tool and whatever, then later became a tool of violence. The more I heard about violence the more personal it became, and I knew people who had been victims of gun violence. But I think because guns are so prevalent, every American has so many personal experiences and personal stories and different ways that they’ve interacted with guns, and different ideas about what guns represent fire. And so I think trying to fix systemic violence by regulating what is essentially an object that has a totally different meaning for everyone involved is probably ultimately going to be a more polarizing way to go about it.

Corin Cates-Carney What did you think when you heard about this latest school shooting in Texas?

Clara McRae I’m going to be super honest with you, Corin, I heard about the school shooting from you. I’ve really made an effort to try not to be aware of, I guess, the violence that I don’t have – that doesn’t impact people who are directly in my life, because it makes me so sad. Because, I mean, what happened in Texas is a tragedy and children died and good people died. And I think the more I read about it, the sadder I get, and the more it distorts my view of the world, and the more it makes me unable to help myself and the people who are actually just ahead me .

Corin Cates-Carney When we last spoke, you and the group of students you worked with referred to yourselves as the lockdown generation. And I asked you; I ask you again, what do you think it means to grow? When you think about it now, has it changed anything about the path you have chosen for your life?

Clara McRae Yeah, I think that’s probably the case. I think since I thought about it, “the generation of confinement” was like a good topic of discussion. And it was something that helped us express to adults how we felt at that time. But I guess at the end of the day it’s much broader than that because all of us, every person alive today was born on a planet that’s getting hotter and drier, more more suffocated and more and more frightened. And the longer you’ve been alive, I think the more obvious it becomes. And so I think fear is really just the dominant emotion of the day, whether or not we’re able to recognize it. So I think that has changed, just because I think everyone is going through a very difficult time right now because the earth is going through a very difficult time right now. And so I guess in terms of big life changes, just bringing a lot more compassion to my interactions with people and a lot more maybe forgiveness, because we’re very complex creatures and we struggle with a lot of Really, really difficult things right now.

Freddy Monares It was Clara McRae speaking with Corin Cates-Carney. As a high school student, McCrae helped form Helena Youth Against Gun Violence after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. McRae is now a political science and history student at the University of Montana. It’s Montana Public Radio.