On Nov. 30, a 15-year-old student at Oxford High School in Michigan opened fire in his school, killing four and injuring seven, including a teacher. The tragedy was one of 28 school shootings that have taken place in the United States in 2021 and though it received widespread media coverage, it seemed to be in the back of South students’ minds.
After almost two years of turmoil in a world upended, we are used to hearing about tragedy. The lockdown drills and run-hide-fight scenarios that we have grown up participating in have become normal during a period of gun rights expansion and hyper politicization. It’s no surprise that we have become desensitized to gun violence tragedies to the point where shootings hardly shock us anymore.
Our staff balked at the prospect of teenagers — impulsive, acne-prone, hormonal kids — owning guns. It is irresponsible to allow teenagers a mechanism with which they could kill or do harm. But still, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on charges of possession of a weapon due to a loophole in Wisconsin state law originally created with the intent to allow 16 and 17 year olds to hunt.
Across the country, gun laws have become increasingly relaxed; in September, a Texas law went into effect, making it legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Such laws hinge on the right provided by the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
It is woven into the foundation of the country that the purpose of guns is to protect people, not to harm; however, research by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center has repeatedly shown a link between a higher number of guns and higher levels of gun violence. That Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges further legitimizes the power of self defense. It is important to note that in some cases, carrying a gun provides a semblance of security, especially for those living in a dangerous environment or a warzone. There are many reasons why people carry guns, but bringing one to school should never be a necessity for defense.
The majority of our staff have never heard the sound of a gun before, which makes it even more important for us to take preventative measures to be prepared for the unlikely possibility of a hostile events. If passing stricter gun legislation is out of our control, how can we, as students, stay safe? At South, faculty and staff have turned to precautions that work: lockdown drills and run-hide-fight memorizations. In these drills, students are taught what to do in the event of a dangerous situation and are given a chance to practice these skills, even if that means carving out extra time from the school day.
Recently, all students practiced these skills as they hid in the corner of classrooms. We were told that if it came down to it, we should silence our phones, make sure our hands are visible and flee on foot. Every year that we are instructed to huddle in a dark corner takes us back to the memory of doing the same drills in Kindergarten, back when we thought it was the funniest thing to huddle together like a pack of penguins. We’ve grown up with these drills, and as we’ve gotten older, and there have been more school shootings across the country, our understanding of the issue has deepenpast just hide and seek drills. But still, with extensive preparation, we are becoming less focused on the safety task at hand and more on our desires to skip class.
That being said, no amount of time spent running drills will prepare us for the situation if it ever does arise. That’s why on top of learning how to react in an actual shooting, we need to focus on preventative measures. One form that this comes in is mental health support.
Time and time again, there has been a proven correlation between mental health issues and instances of school shootings. A study from the American Counseling Association found that while 78% of school shooters had a history of suicide attempts or suicidal ideations prior to their attack, less than one-fifth (17%) were diagnosed with a mental disorder.
When schools see that students are displaying signs of violence or struggling with mental health issues, there should be a more systematic approach to helping them out of their situation, not only to protect the student, but to ensure that no other students are harmed. As a country, we so often see the solution oversimplified; to defend ourselves and feel safe, we resort quickly to the purchase of weapons before looking for other less dangerous options.
While resources are now being put towards expanding access to guns, those funds could be allocated to true preventative measures like mental health assistance. When we hear about instances of gun violence in schools across our country, we must take on a more active role in inspiring preventative measures. Once the gun has been shot, it is already too late. We must be proactive to ensure the safety of ourselves and our peers before it’s too late.