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McHenry County residents march for change, explore self-defense in wake of school violence

McHenry County residents march for change, explore self-defense

• Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a series of stories examining violence in schools.

The same day a group of school employees gathered at a Crystal Lake gun range for concealed carry lessons, families marched through the Woodstock Square during a national demonstration protesting gun violence.

The nation remains divided on a solution to the 17 school shootings in the U.S. that have taken place in 2018 alone. While some parents and teachers have taken to raising awareness about gun violence, others have steadfastly defended the Second Amendment and hoped that arming themselves to protect against active shooters will put an end to violence in schools.

A study published in April by the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of teens worry about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school. Parents of teenagers expressed a similar level of concern, with 63 percent agreeing they are at least somewhat worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their child’s school.

Teens speak up, walk out

At the center of the debate are school-aged children and teenagers, some of whose voices have furthered a national push for gun regulation in the months after the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On Saturday, a group of Parkland shooting survivors stopped in Naperville on their Road to Change tour to encourage young people to be informed on local and national politics and motivate them to vote. Students from Chicago and surrounding suburbs joined the Parkland students to share their experiences with gun violence and reiterate that tragedy can strike anywhere – even a statistically safe hometown.

“A lot of the time people say we are this liberal army coming to disarm the law-abiding citizens, and that is something that is ridiculous. It is a flat-out lie,” said Matthew Deitsch, a 2016 Stoneman Douglas graduate. “We are trying to prevent gun violence. We live in a country that suffers from an astronomical amount of gun violence.”

Although the remedy to gun violence in schools is lost somewhere in a competitive game of political tug of war, 15-year-old Crystal Lake South High School student Savannah Allen has a feeling her generation could be on the path to a resolution.

“I think we’re going to be able to fix a lot of these things as we get older,” she said. “There’s that quote about ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ That’ll be what this is.”

Students across the U.S. and McHenry County participated in 17-minute walkouts in March in memory of those killed in Parkland. While some schools, such as Woodstock High School, eulogized the victims and talked about how to register to vote, others, such as Marengo High School, opted for a “walk-up” focused on antibullying and creating friendships.

Allen and her mom, former Indian Prairie Elementary School teacher Heidi Allen, aren’t actively worried about a gunman barging through the classroom doors, but a steady sense of unease lingers somewhere in the back of their minds while they’re at school or work, they said.

The family has joined the group of voices throughout the nation calling for stricter gun control laws that might put their minds at ease.

“I think adults should know better than to let this keep happening, but obviously they don’t because nothing has happened,” Savannah Allen said. “Hopefully, if we keep bothering them about it, at some point something will happen.”

On the defense

Tom Dorcsh, owner of On Target Range and Tactical Training Center in Crystal Lake, hasn’t forgotten about the more than 215,000 students who, according to a Washington Post database, have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School massacre.

More that 400 school employees have signed up to take concealed carry lessons at the Crystal Lake business since March, when On Target announced free training to school workers.

“After Parkland … we were thinking, ‘This is really frustrating,’ and we were thinking, ‘What could we do?’ ” Dorcsh said. “The resounding response is evident of the need that we’re filling.”

Illinois law doesn’t allow teachers to bring guns into schools, but Dorcsh said the class prepares educators if changes are made under President Donald Trump’s proposal to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed firearms in schools.

Dorcsh has been an advocate for allowing adept school employees access to guns at school, where he said weapons should be locked in a drawer, rather than strapped to a teacher’s hip.

“If anything, just the overwhelming response sends a pretty loud and clear message to the school districts in Illinois that a lot of school teachers want to be able to do something,” Dorcsh said.

At the forefront of regulation

The Allen family was among the hundreds of thousands of protesters flooding the streets of Washington, D.C., on March 24 during the March for Our Lives event. The demonstration, which supported the passage of legislation regulating what guns are allowed in civilians’ hands and who can own them, sparked more than 800 marches throughout the nation. McHenry County’s March for Our Lives on the Woodstock Square drew about 1,000 people, including counterprotesters in opposition of gun control laws.

In addition to gun regulations such as bans on semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, some hope to see more protective measures being built into schools’ infrastructures.

Having a secure anteroom – or lobby – for visitors, or switching to locks that allow teachers to lock their doors from inside their classrooms could save lives, Heidi Allen said.

“School is supposed to be safe, and for a lot of kids, it is their only safe place,” she said.

Until change is made at a legislative level, history will continue to repeat itself, Savannah Allen said.

“It’s just hard to get away from without there being the gun control that we need,” she said. “We basically just hope that [a shooting] doesn’t happen.”

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