I never thought I’d have the opportunity I had on Monday, introducing President Joe Biden as he announced lifesaving actions on gun safety. But I also never thought 2½ years earlier that I’d be airlifted from school to emergency surgery to remove a bullet that was millimeters away from killing me. Or that after that day, I’d never see my best friend, Dominic Blackwell, again.
On Nov. 14, 2019, my biggest worry was a Spanish test. I was a freshman at Saugus High School, determined to get good grades. When I got to school, I made a beeline to the quad to see Dominic, doing our regular routine of before-class chatting.
While I was grateful to be alive, I woke up to a new reality — one in which Dominic and another one of my classmates, Gracie Anne Muehlberger, were no longer alive.
Dominic and I both had big plans. It was one of the things I admired about him, the vision he had for his future. We’d talk about where we saw ourselves after high school, the careers we wanted, the kind of people we hoped to be — even ridiculous things like playing in the NBA at 4-foot-10 and at the age of 14. He was hilarious, silly and the best person I’ve ever met.
Our typical morning laughing session and our plans were interrupted by the sound of a gunshot, followed by six more. One shot hit me in the stomach.
While I was grateful to be alive, I woke up to a new reality — one in which Dominic and another one of my classmates, Gracie Anne Muehlberger, were no longer alive. I’d never make a goofy TikTok with Dominic again, and our community was stripped of Gracie’s infectious smile forever.
I later learned that we had been shot by a 16-year-old Saugus High School student; exactly why, we’ll never know. He had brought his father’s gun to school — a firearm that I would eventually come to know as a “ghost gun.”
At the time, these unmarked, untraceable, build-it-yourself firearms weren’t something I knew about, but I would quickly learn they were the fastest-growing public safety threat in our country. In fact, more than two-thirds of the 80 identified online firearms sellers began selling ghost gun parts after 2014. Anyone with a credit card, the skills to build an Ikea couch and some spare time can make the same gun that stole my best friend. Once seen as the weapon of choice by terrorists, criminals and others who couldn’t pass background checks, ghost guns started to show up in the hands of children and teens and in shootings at schools like mine — a trend that we’re unfortunately seeing in schools across the country.
The rise in ghost guns has devastated communities and families. According to the Justice Department, law enforcement recovered nearly 20,000 suspected ghost guns last year alone. My home state, California, has unfortunately become the epicenter for these types of guns. In Los Angeles, the number of ghost guns recovered from crime scenes has risen by about 400 percent since 2017, according to a Los Angeles police report.
The shooter who took the lives of my two classmates and changed mine forever was able to access a firearm only because his father, who had multiple run-ins with the law and, according to law enforcement reports, was prohibited from possessing firearms, bought a ghost gun assembly kit online. But those days are coming to a close. On Monday, the Biden administration finalized a rule to regulate ghost guns that will, among other things, ensure that if a weapon looks like a gun, shoots like a gun and kills like a gun, it will be treated like a gun. That means the companies that were flooding our country with ghost guns will have to do business like every other gun seller. The core parts of the firearm will need a serial number so the gun can be traced if it’s used in a crime, and the company has to do a background check on its sales.
This change didn’t just happen out of the blue. After the shooting, I joined Students Demand Action, because I realized that nothing would relieve the pain in my heart like working to prevent more senseless shootings. I also sued the seller of the ghost gun that was used at Saugus High School, as well as the 16-year-old shooter’s mother. Advocates and survivors like me have been fighting tooth and nail for this lifesaving progress at every level of government, from city halls to statehouses all the way to the White House. And now, we’ve got the strongest-ever gun sense commander-in-chief in the Oval Office.
A president who realizes that thoughts and prayers alone aren’t enough.
A president who has been standing up to the gun lobby for decades — and winning.
A president who has been standing up for survivors like me.
So on Monday, I stood in the Rose Garden with President Biden representing not only myself, but also Dominic, Gracie and the thousands of other kids, families and communities who know firsthand just how deadly ghost guns are.
I learned that lesson on Nov. 14, 2019, when I was confronted with the reality that, as a high school student in the U.S., I had to worry about my life just as much as tests and grades. But, on Monday, I learned a new lesson — when survivors come together and a gun sense champion is in the office, progress will happen.
And we’re not done yet — because this new rule is just the beginning. We’ll continue to fight for commonsense gun reforms, because we deserve to live in a country that prioritizes our safety. Let us be kids. Let us be safe.