The classroom fills with students, all underclassmen. I sit at the desk in the front of the room, next to Mr. R’s desk, a pile of ungraded quizzes in front of me. Being a biology aide suits me?Mr. R was my favorite teacher sophomore year, and now, as a junior, I get to continue working with him as an assistant. I love my work. I love watching the kids puzzle out the situations Mr. R gives them. I love answering their questions. I love the science.
Today, however, I do not love it quite so much.
Kids chatter amongst themselves, concerned looks and furrowed brows mirrored on each of their faces. I overhear some of their conversations… phrases like “shooting threat” and “gunman” bouncing across the room. A girl in the corner of the room looks considerably more freaked out than the rest. She runs her hands shakily through her curls, her skin is flushed and her eyes are beginning to water.
“I… I have to call my mom… I have to get out of here… “
Mr. R walks over to her. “Are you okay?”
She shakes her head no. “There’s going to be a shooting. I need to go home.”
“There’s not going to be a shooting, I promise. We’re safe.”
The students erupt in anxious whispers. One kid pipes up. “But there were threats on Instagram last night… some kid said he was going to ‘shoot up’ the school.”
Mr. R nods solemnly. “We have extra police officers and teachers monitoring every hallway. We have to take the threats seriously, but we also shouldn’t put too much stock in it either. We will make sure you’re safe.”
The girl nods, still quivering. I take a deep breath and turn back to the ungraded quizzes. As unlikely as the shooting supposedly was, I was still a little freaked. What if this was my last day on this planet? What if some psycho shot me in the face before I could even begin to live my life?
School shootings have become commonplace in America. Empty threats that would have once been shrugged off are now taken seriously to an extreme. There was no shooting at my school, there wasn’t even a gun found in the building, but so many other schools have fallen victim to mass shootings that it is imperative we consider any threat a promise.
The kids in the biology class I aide for were scared out of their minds. Various students across my school had panic attacks, thinking that they’d become another statistic in the ever-growing list of school shooting victims. Rumors flooded the halls, saying a gun had been found, claiming that the gunman was making their way towards our school. Were these fears unwarranted? No, not after every single one of the people in my school have read horrific news stories about the individuals killed in Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, Orlando.
In fact, there have been 186 shootings or attempted shootings at schools since Sandy Hook, the shooting in Newtown that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in 2012. In approximately 80% of cases, someone had information that the shooter was planning or considering attacking the school. I’m lucky my school took the threat seriously. I’m lucky that someone reported the possibility of a shooting to Safe2Tell. I’m lucky that no one I loved was murdered like the first graders in Connecticut. I’m lucky.
The fact is, kids today are terrified of the possibility of a shooting at their schools. It’s a legitimate fear too, considering the statistics. What once was an anomaly, something to be shocked at but not considered a valid threat, is now shrugged at. We see the periodical news articles depicting the latest mass killing and we shrug because, yes, it’s tragic, but it’s mundane for us. And because of its mundanity, it is now a sensible fear. Even though it isn’t a likelihood, school murders have become an increasingly common problem. In the 1990s, the average number of school shootings per year hovered around 5, but since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, there has been approximately one school shooting per week.
There is debate over what needs to be done regarding gun control, but it’s undebatable that there is a problem in today’s society. Whether it’s overly accessible firearms or lack of emphasis on mental illness or absence of school officials taking threats seriously, we need to change how we view school murders. We need to change something about our society, and to start, we can start accepting that there’s a problem.