I remember practice lockdowns to be some of the most awkward experiences of my early schooling. The entire class huddled into the corner of a dark classroom so we would be prepared if anyone potentially dangerous entered the school. I remember thinking it unlikely that turning the lights off would be enough to keep someone from trying to enter the room.
I thought about what decisions my teacher would have to make if someone did find us. Some mornings, when I walked into school or came late, I noticed how easy it would be to enter a school, even with a required sign-in.
But I never anticipated that school shootings would become so common.
As a student teacher, I worry for the safety of my students. Sometimes I worry what decisions I might have to make when I have my own classroom, and how to mentally prepare my students for this reality.
Unfortunately, these thoughts are only becoming increasingly relevant in the United States, where there has been little to no progress in school shooting prevention. Thirty-one percent of school shootings occur in the U.S., with eight school shootings in 2018 alone. Just this week, I overheard students in the school I teach at talking about the recent school shooting in Florida and what they would do if there were to be a shooting in their own school.
Yet, I struggle to explain these realities to my students so that they take school lockdowns more seriously, but in doing so, would I shatter any feeling of safety that students feel at school? Though public outrage should be increasing in response to these shootings, people are becoming desensitized to the unending violence that permeates mainstream and social media.
Even when people post about a school shooting, or any issue, social media “slacktivism” —posting about issues without enacting real change — is more prevalent than concrete actions. Sometimes it seems that people lose hope in creating change, though many other countries have taken practical steps to reduce the occurrence of school shootings and gun violence, and have been successful.
As a country, we are stuck in an unending debate over gun control and other discussions on how to make schools safer, such as having more security, or police officers in schools. And though to some, having a police presence in schools is a viable option, the truth is the people that suffer the most from this are students of color. These students are often preemptively seen as troublemakers and dealt with forcefully by police officers. Even as an adult, I find the police presence to be nerve-wracking as a person of color. I can imagine my students could have similar reactions. Some schools hire security guards for their school instead, which may be a better alternative, but is not a preventive measure to keep shootings from happening in the first place.
National public debates usually focus on less significant aspects of the issue, repeatedly asking the same questions after each occurrence: Who was the shooter? If the shooter had a family, why did they still do it? Did the shooter play violent video games?
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association spends millions of dollars lobbying not only for the protection of the right to arms, but also for a lack of regulation on gun purchases. This system prevents finding concrete solutions to public safety, but the issue is often dismissed as unsolvable, as if it is impossible to know the factors that contribute to school shootings.
Over 16 years ago, filmmaker Michael Moore attempted to answer the question, “Why is gun violence so prevalent in America?” Is it America’s history of violence? Is it the number of citizens that own guns? Moore concluded that though these factors are important, the most distinctive factor in America, it seems, is fear. Media outlets and politicians, only worsening the issue, constantly feed the fear that we have of others in this country. It is this extreme fear that festers in our society, along with the lack of gun regulations that causes these mass shootings to become so prevalent. And while it is true that we have to try as a society to reduce the factors that cause someone to want to pick up a gun to kill mass amounts of people — whether it be mental health, extreme racism, fear or other factors — guns should not be so easily accessible to people.
It should not take a shooting in every school in the nation to make people concerned about the epidemic, but without any concrete changes in legislation to prevent school shootings, they will only become more commonplace.