Toperosky: Living with firearms means living in terror for students

Guest writer Zoe Toperosky is a budding journalist and photographer from Southwest Portland. She is a 17-year-old junior at Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, where she works on the school paper. She plans to pursue journalism in college.
Guest writer Zoe Toperosky is a budding journalist and photographer from Southwest Portland. She is a 17-year-old junior at Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, where she works on the school paper. She plans to pursue journalism in college.

 By Zoe Toperosky

“Locks, lights, out of sight.” The automated voice calls out over the intercom system.

My stomach drops. A million thoughts flood my mind, the most prominent being, “Am I going to die?”

Schools are supposed to be safe spaces — spaces you can go without fearing for your life. But doors, locks, cameras and security don’t equal safety.

Kids go to school for social interaction, education and structure. That’s not what they are getting anymore, though.

As gun violence rises and ever more lives are being lost, I go to school in fear that my return home isn’t guaranteed.

How am I supposed to come to school and focus when I’m scared for my life? How am I supposed to feel safe and protected when I’m not kept informed of what’s going on? How do we leave our trust and safety in the hands of administrators when we don’t know what they are doing or what precautions they are taking?

We had a gun threat at school earlier this year, and I was so disappointed in how it was handled. A person with a gun was spotted next to school grounds during school hours, and it was reported to the main office.

But there was no announcement, no mention of this threat. Few students even knew about it until two days later, when our principal sent out an e-mail.

He briefly explained the situation, and indicated the school had taken the proper precautions. But he didn’t inform anyone until the threat had supposedly long passed.

When I got the e-mail and learned a person in possession of a firearm had come near our school, I was scared. Terrified, actually.

I think to myself when I enter a classroom, “Where in this room could I hide in the event of an active shooter?” And this is not the first thought a 17-year-old should have to entertain heading to class.

I should not be fearing for my life at school. I should be worrying about social status and fitting in with my peers, not where I could hide.

Recent headlines have flooded my screen with the likes of, “School shooting leaves X number of people dead” — as have headlines promoting less-restrictive gun laws. If people are getting killed in schools due to guns, why do people want to allow ever more of them?

I will never understand one’s need for a gun. I will never understand the need people feel to possess a weapon designed to take the life of another living being.

Because some people do feel that need, and act on it harmful ways, I’m scared for my life every day when I go to school.

School shootings have been rising in frequency for more than two decades now, according to the Washington Post. And that’s putting the lives of more and more children at risk.

Firearms are the No. 1 cause of death among children and teens ages 1-19, according to Everytown. At least 202 school shootings occurred last year, leaving 49 people dead, 126 injured and thousands terrified. And it didn’t take us long this year to pass the 100 mark.

Yes, as Americans, we have the right to bear arms. We have the freedom to own guns and use them.

That does not mean everyone should have access to a gun, though.

Firearms are dangerous. In the wrong hands, they become deadly. Innocent lives are lost when guns get into the wrong hands.

Currently, the screening process for gun purchases isn’t particularly restrictive. It should be more in-depth and more carefully thought out. Simply being an American should not guarantee your right to own a gun.

The process for obtaining a concealed handgun permit is also too lax. Permits are open to anyone who meets the standards of ORS 166.291. Essentially, if you’re a U.S. citizen and Oregon resident, and you have no felony convictions or outstanding criminal charges, a county sheriff can issue you one.

We have direct evidence that stricter gun laws lessen the amount of mass shootings, including school shootings. Take the United Kingdom, which has a long cultural history of recreational hunting.

After a mass shooting in 1987, Britain banned semiautomatic weapons. After a school shooting in 1996, it banned most handguns. And today, it has one of the lowest rates of gun-related death in the world.

Another example is Australia.

After a massacre in 1996, it instituted a gun buyback that netted, at least by some estimates, more than one million firearms. It had been experiencing a mass shooting every 18 months, on average, but has only had one in the last 26 years.

At the end of the day, the question becomes: What’s more important, the right to own a weapon or the lives of innocent victims of gun violence?

Until we start prioritizing the lives of people, the lives of children, we will continue to experience rising gun violence. We will continue to find ourselves living in fear.

Our problems will not be solved overnight. I will still be scared when I come into school, even if we begin to take steps in the right direction. I don’t know if that will ever change.

But there are organizations, like Everytown, dedicated to making schools safe places for kids. We can change it for future generations.

I don’t want to live in fear that I could be killed at school, but I do. And I know I’m not alone.

Our safety is not guaranteed. We can never take it for granted.



"Permits are open to anyone who meets the standards of ORS 166.291. Essentially, if you’re a U.S. citizen and Oregon resident, and you have no felony convictions or outstanding criminal charges, a county sheriff can issue you one... regarding a concealed carry permit.

Maybe we should be asking whether a young lady of 17 (sorry for the assumed gender given the prerequisite rainbow flag background) from Portland, given her limited life experiences, should be allowed to exercise her (sorry, gender) 1st amendment freedom and have an opinion piece published in various newspapers. Did she apply for a permit for this? Was she just allowed to do this without any type of screening at all? I hope at minimum there was a 4 hour class, a background check with the sheriff's department and a $50 fee. Doesn't that seem resealable to exercise your freedom? I'm sure the NR has those documents on file before they printed the piece.

I do wonder, if she had any part in 2020 protests that got Portland Police resource officers permanently pulled from Portland Public Schools High Schools, taking on scene security response with them.


The lack of concern and disrespect shown by Bigfoot to the young woman who wrote of her fears is stunning. When will gun advocates like Bigfoot express their concern for school and other mass shootings? When will They advocate against such homicidal actions? They might as well be saying "I can own any gun I want to and use it anyway I want to."


I would point out to this young person that homicides of the youngest, (eleven years old and younger), most vulnerable victims are NOT committed with firearms much less in mass shootings. About 80% of young children who are murdered are beaten, bludgeoned, burned, strangled or stabbed to death. Almost all of the murderers of young children are mother's, mother's boyfriends, step fathers, father's, or step siblings. A person is most likely to be murdered during the first few months after they are born. For every child that is murdered, many more survive the abuse. There is growing evidence that most of the mass shooters that make the headlines were victims of child abuse. Perhaps we should be focusing on actually protecting children rather than exploiting the extremely infrequent mass shootings as a pretext to impose gun prohibition?


I’m not sure that 611 mass shooting in the US this year ( so far) and 690 last year quality as “ infrequent”.




Re Tagup:

Your statistic on mass shootings is grossly misleading. Here is a link to a credible source of information:


Most "mass shootings" are actually gang and drug related homicides. More often than not, there are multiple assailants. We are not permitted to take notice of the demographics of the perpetrators.


My source of stats is Forbes dated 11/25/22. Shootings with 4 or more victims not including the perp. Argue the definition all you want…mass shootings at NOT “extremely infrequent”!


Let's all stand in a circle formation with our guns drawn and pointed towards the center of the circle. Yay!! Don't we all now feel safe in the circle?



Relative to homicides, rapes and robberies in which multiple perpetrators attack a victim or victims, mass shootings are rare events. Given the fact that the same people who support Ballot Measure 114 are the same people who unleashed the woke Antifa BLM mobs upon us, they have no moral credibility to disarm the intended victims.


Hmm...the vague unsubstantiated accusation as rebuttal.....the last resort for a losing argument.
50 mass shooting events ( so far this year).....per month.....extremely infrequent you say?


someone take this young woman to the range. She could learn some self-respect and confidence.



Do you mean like this one?


The folks who are supposedly so concerned about mass shootings don't want to talk about incidents such as this because it doesn't confirm their narrative. This is hardly an aberration. See here:


Over 40 "mass shootings" in Chicago alone, almost all committed by the type of career criminals that Antifa and BLM have unleashed upon us with their woke agenda.


Your examples only confirm that there are too many guns in the hands of the wrong people….so the answer is to do nothing?
By the way, your final sentence is just the same vague speculation from your previous post….. should we really believe a majority of Oregon voters that support measure 114 were responsible for “unleashing BLM and Antifa mobs” on the public?
I think not!

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