Lights, camera, take action: Camryn Tanner on two stages

 Since the start of 2018 there have been over 268 mass shootings, killing and injuring 1,372 people and leaving their friends and families to grieve. But mass shootings do not account for even close to half of those killed and injured by gun violence this year.

These statistics may seem like just numbers on paper, but for Cedar Shoals senior Camryn Tanner and her family, they’re very real.

A drama student, a member of Cedar’s marching band, and now an activist, Camryn is the president of Cedar’s National Association of Students Against Gun Violence.

Camryn was seven years old when she watched a “mad man” with a gun take her father Tom Tanner’s life.

“April 25 should’ve been a happy day,” Camryn told the crowd of students at the student walkout against gun violence last spring. “My dad, Tom Tanner, and two other wonderful human beings, Marie Bruce and Ben Teague, had just completed the last show they would work on. In an instant, my dad’s smiles were stopped by gunshots and blood.”

“Even at seven years old, I knew what I wanted. I knew I did not want him and others like him to have access to a gun. I knew that the NRA was corrupt and frightening. And yet I quickly began to keep that all to myself because of the adults who, despite what I’d seen, disregarded me and shut me down for such open criticism and anger over guns and the NRA,” said Camryn.

Camryn experienced many people’s worst fear up close and personal, left to grow up without a father because a gun was in the wrong hands.

“Kids when they are seven years old haven’t developed a lot of complex thinking skills. It’s all very black and white,” said Camryn’s mother, Chris Schultz.  “At first it was fear. She was afraid that the bad man was going to come back after me, that she was going to lose both of us.”

That fear is what hides in the hearts and minds of students and families across the country. Fear that tomorrow, when you send your child to school it will be the last day you’ll get to see them. Fear that you can’t allow your teenager to walk alone at night. Fear of how easy it is for weapons to get into the wrong hands.

And that fear is a reality. In September of 2018 alone, over 700 people have been killed at the hands of a gun, intentionally or not.

For Camryn at seven years old, the fear was all too real.

Camryn Tanner carrying a sign at the March for Our Lives protest following the Parkland school shooting on April 20, 2018. Tanner passionately spoke of her personal experience with gun violence. Photo by Emma Dowling

“All that time you are expected to do business as usual. You’re supposed to get back to work, take care of pets, grocery shop and interact with people. But at that point everything had changed, everything was very different. You’re supposed to pick up where you left off, and that’s extremely difficult,” said Schultz.

After ten years of grieving, what was once fear has turned into a desire to take action.

“The laws in place aren’t enough. They are little to nothing, and there are a lot of loopholes. People don’t really care that there are loopholes, and that’s concerning,” said Camryn.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives says all dealers must be licensed, regardless of whether they are selling guns in cyberspace, at gun shows, or at brick-and-mortar stores. Regardless, in states such as Georgia, Alabama, Alaska and others, unlicensed sellers can make private sales without conducting a background check.

Students and young adults across the United States are working together to change gun laws and regulations such as the gun show loophole, and Camryn is leading Cedar’s chapter in the fight against gun violence. As the president of Cedar’s NASAGV chapter, she is involved in political movements locally and nationally.

Last March Camryn and her mother traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the national March for Our Lives protest, organized by the survivors from the Marjory Stoneman-Douglas high school shooting that left 17 students dead and 17 injured last February.

“My favorite part was Emma Gonzalez’s speech. It was enlightening,” said Camryn about the

moment when Gonzalez stood in silence for 6 minutes and 20 seconds in front of the 200,000 people in attendance. Her minutes of silence showed how long it took the Parkland shooting gunman to kill 17 people, get rid of the weapon, and blend into the fleeing students.

“I got a chance to participate in Road to Change in Atlanta with Jackie Corin and Emma Gonzalez, and I actually got to share my story there. The amount of support from all of these random strangers that were around me was crazy,” said Camryn.

“It’s just been so heartening to see what started as a handful of teenagers take charge and let it become a national movement, that gives me hope,” said Schultz.  “But my favorite part was having Camryn find her voice.”

Trauma shapes people, families, cities, and even countries. And for Camryn, this trauma has helped motivate her to make change as well as to follow her dreams.

Her father Tom was involved in theater throughout Camryn’s early childhood, appearing in plays at Athens’ Town & Gown before losing his life there in 2009.  Camryn now follows his legacy, participating in acting and drama programs. She last appeared as Senator Fipp in the Cedar Shoals Drama production of Urinetown, and she plans to pursue acting as a career.

It’s just been so heartening to see what started as a handful of teenagers take charge and let it become a national movement. That gives me hope,” said Chris Schultz, Camryn’s mother. Photo by Emma Dowling.

Her mother is supportive of Camryn just as much as she is learning from her.

“There is so much of a romance of guns and the cowboy mentality, and they are a tool and a weapon. I think that my generation went complacent. We just kind of went ‘we can’t change the minds of the people in power. It’s where the money goes and there’s nothing we can do,’ but seeing the movement from teens and young adults has been very inspiring,” said Schultz. “I’m thinking about it more again. It’s gotten me out of my complacent bubble. I think there are going to be some changes and I think your generation is responsible for that.”

“I would relive April 25 a hundred times if I never had to see one more report of children who lost their futures in a place where they should be building them,” said Camryn. “Because eventually, we do all come to terms with what we survived. But god forbid we ever accept our country for the inescapable nightmare it has become for too many.”