Here's one former Army sergeant's opinion on how (and how not) to end school shootings.

Six-and-a-half years ago, a routine patrol in Afghanistan's Panjwa'i district turned into an ambush.

I can still hear my name, screamed — "Martin! MARTIN!" — as I turned and saw three members of my platoon under attack in the field behind me. We were taking fire from three enemy positions, some as close as 20 yards, the same short distance as a pitcher’s mound to home plate.

I, along with some of my fellow soldiers, returned suppressive fire. Just as the first of our men safely reached us, I was suddenly hit with what felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger swinging a sledgehammer into my leg.


This is what being shot by a high-powered assault rifle feels like.

Assisted by an extremely calm and poised sergeant, I was able to move to cover in a canal as bullets cracked and whizzed by my head and exploded in the dirt around me — another sound that I will never be able to forget. Luckily, a medic was already there to start administering aid to my bleeding wound.

There was only one problem: The medic froze.

This man, who had spent at least the last year of his life training full-time for this exact moment, could not move.

Quickly, other medics came to me and made sure I received proper medical attention. And it’s a good thing they did — the bullet had traveled through my left thigh, shredded my left hip flexor, and moved through my left butt cheek before ultimately stopping halfway in the right one. Big picture: The bullet missed my colon and spine by half an inch and traveled over a foot inside my body. Without the other medics’ care, I may not have survived.

When I heard the news of the Parkland school shooting, I couldn’t help but think of how those students experiences resembled the firefights I had been involved in.

The fear and chaos that the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas faced is no different than what my fellow soldiers and I faced in Afghanistan.

It’s a fear that I still remember as though it were yesterday, the same fear that caused that Army medic to freeze. And it’s the same fear and chaos that every teacher and student will face when confronted with an active shooter, so long as these tragedies continue to happen.

After the Parkland shooting, debate flows freely on how to prevent these tragedies, with many legislators proposing a program that would allow teachers to enroll in training to carry a weapon on school grounds.

The theory goes like this: In the event of a school shooting, trained, armed adults on the premises would retaliate and, in theory, neutralize the shooter before damage could be done.

But as someone who has seen my fair share of close-range combat, let me tell you: It doesn’t work like that.

Regardless of training, you don’t know how people will respond in life-and-death situations until the moment it happens.

You don’t know how people will react when they hear gunshots. Even an Army medic, a person whose full-time job is to prepare for such a situation, might freeze. And now we’re expecting teachers — after being given the most of basic trainings — to handle that same situation perfectly. (I say “perfectly” because anything less could mean even more tragedy and death.)

It’s not realistic.

This isn’t a movie where the bullets always miss the hero. These teachers aren’t action stars.

These are average people who, more likely than not, have never come close to experiencing anything like the chaos and pressure of trying to protect themselves and others under active gunfire.

Members of the military and police spend hours, days, and weeks at a time training with their weapons. They train on close-quarter tactics with partners, teams, squads, and platoons. They practice methodically, over and over and over, for the length of their entire careers.

We’re talking about individuals who are specifically trained to respond to these situations — and even they sometimes get it wrong.

The margin for error in combat is razor thin. Even with the best of intentions, a teacher with a gun can not only fail to protect their students, but they can create a tragedy of their own.

What if, during the chaos of an active shooter situation, a teacher shoots an innocent student? What if the teacher is shot, which is likely (according to the FBI, police officers who engage an active shooter are wounded or killed in 46.7% of incidents)? What if, on a regular day, a teacher goes to break up a fight in the hallway and the firearm accidentally discharges?

The potential collateral damage isnt worth it. There are just too many negative outcomes, all of which are far more likely than the slim chance that a civilian is able to stop an active shooter threat.

My point is not to undermine the bravery of our teachers, but to be realistic about what that bravery can do.

Our country has seen example after example of teachers and students shielding others from gunfire. “Heroic” doesn’t begin to fully explain the bravery of the person behind those actions. But even the most heroic individual, without proper and consistent tactical training, can cause even more catastrophe when armed with such a deadly weapon.

Politicians who are blasé about the complexity and rigorous training required for these types of engagements and who underestimate the physical, physiological and psychological toll a combat environment brings to those involved should be forced to place themselves in these types of simulations. Then, they might understand that arming just anyone with a gun can be much more dangerous and costly than anticipated.

Ultimately, I’m saddened by the fact that we’ve reached a point where people in this country want teachers to arm themselves like moonlight deputies. Undeniably, gun violence is a complex problem we all want to solve, one for which I don’t have all the answers.

But I’m confident that arming teachers isn’t part of it — now or ever.

This story was originally published by Charlotte Five and is reprinted here with permission.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."