Alexis Fortner, 18, didn’t go to Marshall County High School. She wasn’t there when a student pulled a gun out of his bag on a cold January day and killed two of his classmates and injured fourteen more.
“Even if we aren’t directly affected by the shooting,” Fortner said. “We are still affected.”
There had been construction going on at Murray High School, where she recently graduated. Before the shooting, the noises the class heard were just that – noises. After, they sounded like gun shots.
“The teachers had to be more parental, almost,” Fortner said. “To really console kids.”
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It’s part of the reason Fortner came out to protest the presence of Lt. Col. Oliver North, the next president of the National Rifle Association, as he spoke to Republicans at the annual Night Before Fancy Farm event in Calloway County.
North took the Lovett Auditorium stage, where guns aren’t permitted, to wild applause from hundreds of supporters.
He talked about history. He talked about where he was conceived. He talked about patriotism and the need to value freedom.
But it wasn’t until more than 25 minutes into his speech that the incoming president of the NRA talked about the largest elephant in the room – school shootings.
“Our most precious resource, our children, aren’t as well protected as the halls of Congress, as a jewelry store, as a train station,” North said.
North said he wanted to avoid what happened at Marshall County High School from ever happening again. And he had a solution: increased security in schools.
“It ought to be that protecting our children while they’re learning in their classrooms needs to be a national imperative,” North said.
In the wake of several school shootings and the inaction of lawmakers to address gun control, several districts in Kentucky are doing just that.
In Lexington, the school board just passed a tax to fund increased security measures in the school. Sebastian Lawrence, Ashkahn Nabavi and John Humphrey, who attend Murray High School, said they get patted down and have their bags searched when they go into school.
But the crowd gathered outside had a different suggestion.
Hollan Holm, 35, was a student during the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah. He said he wanted to see legislation to address the issue.
“I would like some action from our legislators,” Holm said. “It seems like the only solutions that are provided by NRA-funded legislators are solutions that would sell more guns.”
As Republicans entered the auditorium, they were met with chants of “shame” and “not one more.” Some walked stoically into the building. Others hammed it up outside, including one man who carried a poster of North.
North, who became a household name during the Iran-Contra Affair and for years hosted a Fox News show, was scheduled to speak at the event before it was announced on May 7 that he would be the next president of the NRA. But that didn’t matter to most of the people who stood in the 95 degree heat. They were mad that he was there at all – 23 miles from Marshall County High School.
“It feels like this is just an unconscionable thing that they are doing. It feels like rubbing salt in a wound,” said Megan Meyer, 37, of Trigg County, who helped organize the rally.
“Not one, but two shootings in the past two decades and they bring in the head of the NRA?” Shannon Jacobs, of Murray, said. “It seems like a big F.U. to the victims and their families.”
But Lawrence, who came to the protest just to see what all the yelling was about, said he felt like what he saw was just making things worse.
He and Humphrey had been shooting earlier that day. He doesn’t necessarily see a problem with guns. He did see a problem with bullying, and he sees a problem with all the attention on school shootings.
“It gives people the idea of what to do with their anger,” Lawrence said.