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About 60 West Virginians took to the state Capitol on Saturday demanding lawmakers support and pass common sense gun legislation as part of the national March For Our Lives Movement.

The Charleston rally was one of more than 300 held across the country on Saturday, and was organized by recent St. Albans High School graduate Ariana Rectenwald. At 17 years old, Rectenwald said she spent nearly every year she attended public school practicing active shooter drills.

At 15, as she sat in math, police officers rushed through the classroom doors and across her campus with fake guns for a drill. Students, including Rectenwald, were instructed to tackle the officers. They were told to get the guns out of their hands, and if they didn’t, Rectenwald said, they were told how they could be shot and killed if someone ever brought a real gun to school.

“I didn’t have my learner’s permit. I can’t explain to people who haven’t seen these drills and grown up with them how scary they really are,” Rectenwald said. “It’s like the duck-and-cover drills [older generations] were taught during the Cold War, that’s what I compare it to when I talk to people. But unlike them, we’re taught to fight back. That our only choice is to physically fight back. It’s terrifying.”

When they were in elementary school, Rectenwald and her former St. Albans classmate Sydney Chafin watched the Sandy Hook shooting unfold. When they were older, in high school, Parkland happened.

A few weeks ago, when 19 children and two adults were killed by a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, Chafin said it was “heartbreaking” to watch the tragedies unfold over and over again with no recourse or change to save children’s lives.

“We’re not anti-gun, I wish people understood that. We just want to protect the kids, protect ourselves,” Chafin said. “I’ve known nothing but gun violence since third grade, it keeps happening and no one is doing anything to stop it.”

On Saturday, Chafin and Rectenwald were clear. They don’t want to violate anyone’s rights, Rectenwald said, they just want “common sense” approaches to gun ownership.

“We want to see background checks and mental health checks. We want to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Rectenwald said. “We want to feel safe when we go to school, to the store, to the movies. Everyone should have the right to safety.”

Chafin, who is now a student studying history education at Glenville State University, compared the feeling of “wariness” to post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2018, a few days after the Parkland school shooting, Chafin was in class at St. Albans High when a heater at the school made a loud banging sound.

“Everyone jumped, people were panicked. Any loud noise, and you’re terrified because you never know what could be happening, but you know what you’ve seen happen other places,” Chafin said.

Now, as Chafin studies education in hopes of becoming a teacher, she said gun violence have entered discussions in her course work. Future teachers are sharing hypotheticals of what they would do if someone was armed and entering their classrooms.

“I’m 19 and I’ve thought my entire life basically thinking about this as a student, as a kid,” Chafin said. “Now I’m thinking about what it will be like as the adult in the situation and yes, I would definitely put myself in front of my kids, but I don’t want to have to. We need something to change.”

Katie Moore, a 19-year-old George Washington High School alumna who now attends college in New York City, said she’s tired of watching shootings “all the time.” She wishes lawmakers understood that protecting a child’s life, “anyone’s life,” is more important than a gun.

“These are lives — human lives — at stake and that should mean something to them,” Moore said. “When you look around today, there are people from all generations here. We’re tired, we’re upset. This is affecting everybody and enough is enough.”

Those in attendance at Saturday’s rally included children, teens and adults of all ages. Jerry and Sherri Reveal, from St. Albans, said the current issues of gun violence didn’t exist when they were children.

They attended school before Columbine. The first shooting they remember was the University of Texas tower shooting in 1966 when 14 people were killed and 31 more injured.

“It was a shock, absolutely heartbreaking, but it was still so rare,” Jerry Reveal said. “Now it feels like every week. Every day. And my God, these are children. Something has to be done.”

Rectenwald said she wanted lawmakers in West Virginia and beyond to know that her generation is not giving up the fight to end gun violence. She’s angry, she said, that the responsibility has been put on them to save their own lives in a tragedy instead of those with power taking action.

Though going off to college, Rectenwald said she worries daily about her 5-year-old sister Caroline, who has more than a decade left to spend in school.

“I want her to be safe, I want her to survive. That shouldn’t be asking too much from the people in charge,” Rectenwald said. “I hope [lawmakers] can look at these childrens’ faces and realize something has to change for their sake, for our future’s sake.”

Caity Coyne covers health. She can be reached at 304-348-7939 or caity.coyne@hdmediallc.com. Follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

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