Opinion

America Can’t Let Its Children Live in an Age of Mass School Shootings

Wikimedia CommonsThe 2012 Sandy Hook shooting was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history and brought more attention to the issue.

Anyone who took an American history class likely saw a video called “Duck and Cover.” The video was created in the 1950s and shows a procedure for children to practice in case they’re in school during a nuclear attack. A turtle named Bert stars in the film and teaches students how to get under their desks and duck and cover.

The video uses characters and fun animation so elementary age children will be more likely to listen. I remember watching this in my junior year of high school. My class laughed through the song and animation, thinking about how silly the video is in the present context.

What we didn’t realize is ever since we began school, we’d been experiencing a similar process of preparing for disasters. Lockdown drills, intended to prepare children for active shooter situations began occurring a few times a year when I was in elementary school, and have since become normalized in American schools. 

As eight-year-olds, crouched in the back of the classroom and laughing at those trying to sneakily whisper without the teacher noticing, we didn’t really understand the point of a lockdown. After all, we were children and the reasons for having lockdown drills were far beyond our comprehension.

While school shootings were not new to society, the Columbine Massacre was one of the first with a high death toll of twelve students and one teacher. After Columbine, the Virginia Tech shooting was the next mass shooting with a death toll of 33. Then in 2012, yet another mass shooting occurred when Sandy Hook Elementary School was entered by a shooter who killed twenty-six children and staff members.

After these tragedies, schools began performing more intense and realistic lockdown drills. Prevention methods became more complex when systems designed to lock and block doorways were implemented into classrooms across the nation, but this wasn’t enough.

Six years and 290 school shootings later, 14 children were killed in a shooting in Parkland, Florida Feb. 14, 2018. Days after this massacre, schools across the country distributed instructions to their teachers denoting how to prepare and protect their classrooms in an active shooter situation. In my high school journalism class we watched a video that largely resembles Duck and Cover. It brought up three main options in an active shooter event — run, hide and fight.

While I see why the video was necessary given the recent circumstances, it felt like a death sentence to watch. Instead of assessing the root of the problem and opening a pathway for gun reform, the video made us feel responsibility for our safety in an active shooter situation.

After the video, my teacher had a serious talk with us. 

He sat us down and explained that a situation could arise where he wouldn’t be in the room with us.

We discussed the logistics of the room, such as how to hide out of sight from the windows and block the door. I remember being told we would have to be adults and make adult decisions for those we were trapped in the room with.

I kept hearing the words “you will have to be the adults if we aren’t there” repeat in my head. While I know anyone in that class would have stood up and made the tough decisions, this phrase stuck with me.

Is this what is being asked of our students in America? Instead of prevention, we’re counting on preparedness to save lives in mass shootings. 

Somehow, the issue of gun violence is yet to be addressed at the base of one of the major roots of the problem — easy access to guns. The burden of safety is instead consistently placed on students by endless preparation. While making sure students understand concepts like “Run. Hide. Fight.” is important, we need to turn our attention towards prevention and focus on gun reform to ensure that children will no longer be afraid to go to school. 

Lockdowns have become the new normal, and preparing children for active shooter situations has become normal, but it isn’t fair. 

Our goal should be to raise children in an environment where they aren’t fearing for their own safety. America is looking towards preparedness instead of prevention, and while preparedness is still important, prevention should be the first priority.

We don’t deserve to live in this normalized atmosphere of fear, and it doesn’t just exist in schools. America has witnessed shootings in movie theaters and night clubs among other public places.

What we deserve is sensible gun reform to eliminate the threat of mass shootings completely. This would include background checks that expand all sales of firearms, and a structured process for those acquiring licenses. Required gun safety classes and character references are a few ways the sale of firearms could be safer. 

By focusing on gun violence prevention just as much as preparedness, we can ensure future generations will grow up feeling safe and secure in their learning environments. 

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