If you make it past the railroad tracks you’re golden.”
“You really just have to get into one of the bathrooms before they all lock.”
“If you’re in a hallway, just run.”
If you ask any of my peers what they’d do if there was a shooting while they were in school, they would have a predetermined course of action. In this age of unprecedented gun violence, American high schoolers are growing up to believe that these acts of terror are commonplace, that school shootings are normal. In the state of Colorado, I’ve grown up in schools that constantly do lockdown drills. I grew up in schools that taught us never to open any door for anyone. Schools whose attendees harbored a constant fear that they won’t come home.
Such beliefs are setting future generations up for more of these tragedies, because with the adoption of this as our new normal, we become focused on combating it, not preventing its existence.
This is what brings me to say, America, this is not normal.
I remember very clearly the day that “lightning drills” became “lockdown drills”. We began with a discussion of the Columbine tragedy and about the new reality of shooters in our place of learning. The drill would be carried out as normal, except that day, my fifth-grade teacher told us, “If a threat makes it into the classroom, everyone should grab their science textbooks and chuck it at them.”
That was the degree of security in place for nine-year-olds in America. Our tools for education became means for protection. I remember for weeks after that discussion, a majority of my fifth-grade class started lugging around their science textbooks all the time, to recess, to lunch. We were becoming conditioned to this new existence, accepting that things weren’t going to change anytime soon.
This is mentality is not uncommon, as these shootings become less and less rare. In fact, last year alone there were ninety-four incidents of gun violence in schools across America, a number that broke the previous record of fifty-nine. The situation is not getting better, and the future of America is growing up in a constant state of awareness, if not blatant fear. The class of 2019 was the first to have graduated in the era of school shootings; the most infamous high school shooting happened before they were even born.
As I grew older, and ever so slightly wiser, I started to at least question the status quo, if not excuse it entirely as unacceptable. By the time the Parkland shooting happened, my fifth-grade class was starting high school. At that point we’d become all too familiar with the school-tragedy response cycle. We planned walkouts, we tweeted and posted, we wore a certain color t-shirt, and mostly, yelled into an unresponsive void. The actions and reactions of our nation are pitiful at best, and negligent at worst, as effective gun control measures are still mere discussions in Washington. There should be no debate over whether stricter legislation is worth it. There should be no basis for delaying standard licensing practices in every state.
There should be nothing more to discuss, America, because your children are dying.
Schools and districts can do very little to increase protection of their students. The extent of my own school's ability is summed up in a balloon ban. Last year a balloon popped in the hallway. Someone screamed. Thinking she was hurt we rushed after her, only to find her hugging her knees and crying on the bathroom floor.
She said, “I thought it was finally happening.”
No one needed to clarify what “it” was.
A ban on balloons was all my school could do to prevent similar incidents. Lanyard checks are lengthy and subjectively enforced. School Resource Officers have proven ineffective in stopping shooters. Relocation drills only matter after a tragedy. None of the new policies are doing anything to stop the problem. Many of my peers view them as frivolous, rather than legitimate plans of action. As a high schooler, these plans often seem like placation for communities enraged by the existing state of affairs. American students are paralyzed by the insecurity of their schools, and the degree of change is derisory.
Incidents continue to get closer and closer to home. Last April, my school district, along with four others, shut down when a woman from Florida threatened our lives. Three weeks later, students in a school eleven miles away from my own witnessed the death of one of their students in a shooting. This is not normal. It certainly isn’t okay.
American high schools are unsafe. Dare not call me radical nor naive when I witness every day how the lingering threat of gun violence plagues the sanctuary that places of education are compelled to provide. Dare not suggest that I cannot comprehend the complexity of the issue when every day I wrestle with it. How am I to hold back my contempt when I’m told to study to change my nation for the better, while my nation fails to provide even the most basic degree of security? None of the necessary changes are being made to protect the future of our country. However America, we can do better, we must do better, lest we continue raising entire generations in fear.