I’m of the opinion that there is a very simple choice you can make right now to help combat school shootings. Not something to entirely end the cycle of shootings, but at least a first step to gain the upper hand.
No real effort, no mountains to move or oceans to cross. Just a simple choice. Right now.
Just a simple choice. Right now.
A shaky voice over Loveland High School’s PA system interrupted my sophomore English presentation and instructed teachers to immediately check their email. The tone suggested that something was very wrong.
After teachers opened the staff-wide email about a possible safety threat, some dissolved into a panic: I was told a Home Ec class on the floor above moved a fridge in front of the door, children cried and called their parents. Some teachers panicked, discussed plans for dealing with potential shooters and prepared for the worst. An enforcement team approached the school with semi-automatic rifles at the ready and what happened has stuck with me. What has really stuck with me was not the potential threat itself, but rather how my teacher reacted.
Our class was confused by the vague announcement, but not afraid. I continued to give my presentation about Shakespeare’s depiction of power, none the wiser.
My 10th grade English teacher made a simple choice.
It was a choice that showed great calm, discretion, and reason. She could have more easily chosen hysteria, panic, chaos– she could have given into fear. But instead, Mrs. Bosse (and most other teachers) made a choice to continue forward normally and to rise above.
In the end, the Loveland High School administration explained that their emergency threat system had been accidentally triggered and that there was no safety threat (but that we had proof our precautions work). It was a non-event and I was unshaken.
At the time, I was a little annoyed by her reaction. What if there had been a real shooter? Our lives could have been at risk. She left me right in the line of fire. School shootings are a scary thing, and fear is the natural response. Had there been a more serious situation the response might have been different. There were more factors at play and the situation, like all situations, was complex. But still, her lack of fear frustrated and confused me initially.
Since then, I’ve come to think that her response speaks to something much larger about the human condition and giving into hysteria. I think it’s valid to be afraid of violence when you’re surrounded by it. But a life of fear only perpetuates violence.
Each shooting fills me with another (slowly numbing) wave of disgust. Around me, I see peers come to school each day in fear that they may be the next victim of domestic terror. I’ve caught wind of stories of parents sending their children to school with doorstops in order to stop shooters from entering. During the syllabus of each new class, teachers offer an escape plan, meandering around the hard-to-stomach word “shooting” with euphemisms and sly wording. There are constantly administrators in the cafeteria and hallways watching for potential threats and teachers go through extensive school shooting training courses. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keep an eye out for questionable characters and locate exits. Even in Loveland, a relatively wealthy and safe school, people attend class in fear.
Now, there’s something to preparation. But living in fear– that’s a different situation.
Fear is what breeds violence. Fear is what school shooters want to be remembered for. Living afraid only perpetuates the murder.
When school psychologists are flooded by students afraid of being shot and parents call school administrator in mass out of fear of their child’s well-being, there is no possible argument that the shooter failed to shake the nation and instill fear. There’s no arguing that the Parkland shooter’s petty, pathetic and vindictive act was successful. That fear that he instilled says to other would-be domestic terrorists a sense of, “this is the impact I could have”. It all suggests to me that there is only one way for us to combat school shooters, and, to a larger extent, hate and violence.
It’s a simple choice:
Love or fear.
In the words of comedian Bill Hicks:
“It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.”
Now, just saying “don’t be afraid” isn’t exactly a solution. After all, in just four years 138 children and adults were killed in school shootings, averaging nearly 35 deaths a year. We’re surrounded by stories of brutal mass murder. It’s shocking, repulsive and disgusting. It’s the sort of thing that has recently become deep-rooted in our culture and can really reach the psyche. It is scary stuff. But let’s take emotion out of the equation for just a moment.
13,277 individuals age 10-24 died of unintentional injury and 5,900 of suicide in 2015. According to the CDC, just last year, approximately 64,000 Americans died from drug overdose deaths, making it over 1,855 times a more likely cause of death than school shootings (averaging 138 over 4 years). Between 2004 and 2015, 49 people a year died due to lightning strikes in America on average (15 more than school shootings).
This isn’t to negate the gravity of school shooting-related death. The number is disturbingly high. This is also not to discourage action to prevent gun-related death through legislation, conversation, protest, and preparation. There are practical steps we can take in encouraging reform and steps to protect children. There are bigger steps that can be taken. But swapping fear for love is the jumping-off point.
by giving into fear, you are not only letting school shooters win, but fighting for them.
But the point is this: there are other places for you to focus energy than worrying about school shootings. Living in fear will get you nowhere. And by giving into fear, you are not only letting school shooters win, but fighting for them.
Fear perpetuates and encourages the cycle– it’s the only thing that makes the cycle exist in the first place. The shooters want to know that fear will follow in their wake. Hysteria lets them win.
What will not work? Teaching would-be school shooters that they can make mothers across the country put doorstops in their child’s backpack out of fear that their child might be shot. Showing would-be shooters that in a matter of minutes they can rattle the entire country. Fighting fire with fire and fear with fear by putting more guns into classrooms will not work either.
The only way we can win is taking fear out of the equation.
You can either live your life afraid and encourage your children to walk hallways in fear or you can redirect the energy, time and thought you’d put towards playing out near impossible situations into love. Instead of living in terror, you can share kindness, social reform, action, positivity and productivity. But the two cannot effectively coexist. It’s hysteria or forthright unflinching calm. One or the other. And it’s bigger than school shootings– the notion extends to hate, hysteria and violence as a whole.
It’s fear or it’s love.