Amanda Szkutak is a recent graduate of the George Washington University and a Program Associate at Campaign to Unload .
When I begin to hear the news of a mass shooting outside of the UCSB campus, I am upset and horrified– but not shocked. The gunman, a UC-Santa Barbara student, terrorized the campus town, killing 6 students shortly after declaring his intention to seek “retribution” in a YouTube video. It sounds like a nightmare but, more and more, gun violence has become a very real part of students’ lives.
Due to our “failures of legislative and moral courage… we ask our kids to pile themselves silently into their classroom closets, and we tell them this is what freedom looks like.”
-Dahlia Lithwick, “Lockdown Nation”
In school I was taught that the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun was a locked classroom door and a school desk. We practiced monthly for potential tragedy. An announcement would come over the loudspeaker; we would close the blinds, lock the door, hide under our desks, and wait.
As an adult, I look back on these experiences with bewilderment. Why hadn’t I been more scared? Maybe it was because as a student in a post-Columbine America intruder drills had become a mundane routine. Like fire drills, intruder drills were seen as a break from math class, a time to pass notes and whisper under the desks. We would shuffle through the motions in a manner completely detached from reality of a school shooting which can only be pure, unimaginable terror.
The issue is that lockdown drills are a symptom of, not a solution to, the gun violence problem. Even more troubling, these drills are teaching generations of students, that not only are school shootings natural but an unavoidable reality like fires or a natural disasters- an uncontrollable force, an act of God. This attitude discourages action even as gun violence worsens for students.
There is, however, an even deeper irony to lockdown drills, in that we use the same line of logic when attempting to address the greater question of how to prevent gun violence. We pretend it’s routine, unavoidable. We hide from the issue. We remain silent. We wait. We hope that the intruder won’t turn the handle on our classroom door, our community.
Richard Martinez, the grief-stricken father of one of the victims of the Isla Vista shooting, put out an emotional call for reform, sickened that the NRA and Congress continue to “tolerate” and “normalize” mass murder. Yet this idea, that these tragedies are somehow “normal,” goes even further – underpinning our culture on guns and the way schools are teaching students to see gun violence.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown – these tragedies should weigh heavy on the American conscious, as lawmakers have still not taken meaningful action to address gun violence against young Americans. The death of 6 students outside the UCSB campus only provides further proof that Millennials are paying the price for these legislative failures in blood.
There have been 72 school and campus shootings since Newtown alone.
This is the America students go to school in. Yet, rather than enact common-sense laws regarding guns, Congress has taken no decisive action and has been met by an indifferent American public. Both financial pressure and public outrage are needed to end this political stagnancy and gun industry irresponsibility. Campaigns such as the recent push for UCSB to divest from gun manufacturers can accomplish both.
More importantly, however, we need to decide, as a society, that community safety is a priority or we will continue to condemn future generations to remain part of the cycle of violence by teaching students that a solution doesn’t exist.
As a recent college graduate, I look out on the America where students go to school and my heart sinks. Every day I read clinical, statistic filled articles on Millennial gun deaths and school shootings that fail to capture the tragedy and horror. I recall a photo taken by a student at Kent State and I try to imagine what hiding, scared for your life, would be like. I didn’t feel the terror under that classroom desk 10 years ago but I feel it now.
The demand for “Not one more” has been heard too many times before. Yet, I hope Richard Martinez’s call to “stop this madness” is heard, because ultimately he’s right: “We don’t have to live this way.”