I was born a few months after the Columbine shooting. I always lived in a world where school shootings were normal
Disclaimer: This blog discusses a topic which some readers may find distressing.
Last week, 21 people, including 19 children, died in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The shooter acquired his weapon legally. The gun he used can be ordered online for $1870 with free click and collect shipping. There was even an instalment plan.
It’s clear that America has a problem with mass shootings, to the point that firearm-related injuries are the number one cause of death for children.
An eleven-year-old survived last week’s shooting. One moment, she was watching Lilo and Stitch with her fourth-grade class. The next, her teacher and several of her classmates had been shot. Her friend bled to death in front of her. Fearing the gunman’s return, she put her hands in the open wound of her dead friend and spread the drying blood on her own clothes, so that she might look convincingly dead. It worked. She survived. I can’t imagine she’ll ever forget.
At my school, shooting drills were just as routine as fire drills. I was born a few months after the Columbine shooting, so I always lived in a world where school shootings were tragically normal. Even in the liberal state of California, it was still something we feared growing up. I don’t remember the first school shooting I heard about. They all blur together, to the point where people ask “which one?” when the topic comes up.
Americans treat school shootings as inevitable, like earthquakes or forest fires. There is this pervasive notion that they simply cannot be prevented, only stopped by higher fences, barricaded doors, or “a good guy with a gun.”
My mom works as a teacher’s assistant. Her class is the youngest in the school, with the oldest kids being only six years old. During shooting drills, she tells them there’s a big angry dog outside, in an attempt to shield them from the truth for as long as she can. But too many of them already understand. They’re not hiding from a dog.
When we talked about the news over the weekend, as we typically do, there was a lingering devastation in her voice, the kind that only comes from seeing the same tragedy over and over again.
“Why is your right to own a gun more important than my right to life? These children have had their right to life taken away,” she told me. “What are we expected to do? Turn schools into prisons? Having one locked door just doesn’t work in a school.”
Arming teachers is often proposed as a potential solution to the school shooting epidemic. No teacher I have ever spoken to wants a gun in the classroom.
“It will get worse if there’s a gun in the room already. I have the right to feel safe at my job, and children have a right to feel safe at school. For some kids, school is the only place where they feel safe, and we’re taking that away from them,” my mom told me.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott made a statement after the shooting, saying “We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health.” But just a few months ago, in April of 2022, Abbott cut $211,000,000 from the Texas Health and Human Services Department, which provides mental health care to Texans.
The mental illness narrative is a misinformed and stigmatizing idea that perpetuates negative stereotypes about people with mental health issues. “People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of mass shootings than perpetrators of mass shootings. Less than 10 percent of shootings involved a suspect who had mental health issues,” says Greg Hansch, head of the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
I marched for gun control nearly five years ago. I have never seen so many young people marching before or since. The youngest person I saw at the March for Our Lives was a student in an after-school class that I taught on Friday afternoons. I remember thinking “She’s too young to be fighting for this.” She couldn’t have been older than seven. It’s not supposed to be children’s responsibility to protect themselves, but when we teach kids to hide below the windowsill, lest bullets break the glass, we put that responsibility on them.
If our children grow up suffering as we did, then we’ve failed them. America is the only developed country where this still happens. It isn’t inevitable. I marched for gun control as a teenager, but as an adult, nothing has changed.
When will it end?
When will we have gun control?