No parents like to see their kid’s school’s phone number pop up on their cell during the school day. This year, though, when I see that number, I’m less concerned that my child is sitting on the office floor trying not to puke and more worried that I’m about to be notified of the latest school lockdown. Because it’s the beginning of the ninth week of school, and I’ve already received four robocalls about the threat of gun violence in their schools.
Like every kid in the public school system, my children are immersed in what has inherently become a culture of reacting to or predicting violence. My kids have been having lockdown drills since they were five years old. I’ve spent years standing on the ledge between gratitude for school preparedness and wondering what kind of emotional trauma we’re instilling in our kids by having them practice how to hide from real life monsters with guns.
If you’re in a classroom, line up against the wall or safe corner and don’t make a peep. If you’re in the cafeteria, find the closest classroom. In the gym? Go to the locker room and lock the door. Bathroom? Well, fuck. Go to a stall, lock it, stand on the toilet, and try to breathe shallowly. If you’re outside, stop, drop, and lie still.
Lock the doors. Shut the blinds. Tape paper over windows. Don’t talk. Don’t move.
As a parent old enough to have never endured lockdown drills myself, imagining lockdowns conjures up the adrenaline of childhood makeshift haunted houses or lights-off, hide-and-seek tag. Except it’s not a game.
My high schooler tells me that there are different levels of lockdown. A soft lockdown basically means that kids can’t be in the hallway, but class continues as usual. Soft lockdowns are apparently used during testing and lower-level threats. A hard lockdown is used when there is an imminent threat. Doors are locked, paper is taped over windows, and kids huddle under desks or in corners, preparing for the worst.
I remember as a kid watching the nightly news reports of routine violence in other parts of the world and wondering how scary it must be to live in (insert violence of the country du jour). A few weeks ago, as I drove my child to school—against all of my instincts telling me to turn around and go home because there was a known threat against the school—I flashed back to those childhood thoughts and realized how absurd they were. The U.S. is one of “those” countries.
A few years ago, a Saudi student who was living with my family refused our suggestion to walk or take a bus to a close destination because he was afraid of getting shot. I remember my kids laughing that he thought that, and I remember how much I struggled to reconcile his fear with our own lack of fear. Because statistically speaking, his fear of gun violence was pretty spot on.
Two months into 2016, my town of Kalamazoo, Michigan became the year’s first U.S. site of a mass shooting when an Uber driver went on a random shooting spree, killing six and injuring two. Since that incident, there have been five more mass shootings in the United States, including the most deadly mass shooting in recent U.S. history at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Mass shootings in 2016 alone have left 71 people dead and 83 injured. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data)
According to data from the CDC, an average of 91 people are killed by guns every day in the United States, and the U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other developed countries. It seems like U.S. society is the metaphorical frog in a boiling pot of water. We live in a state of increasing violence and have been conditioned to accept it as normal.
But Why and How?
The normalization of violence doesn’t just happen haphazardly. And in the case of gun violence in the United States, that normalcy is heavily marketed to Americans in a neat little package labeled with an “it’s my right,” sticker.
The gun lobby has worked hard to establish rhetoric that turns what should be a pretty obvious conversation about gun violence prevention into a battle over hard-earned rights. And why not? After all, a country that boasts more guns than people has a booming gun industry. And for the gun lobby, the bottom line appears to be more valuable than actual human lives.
Reducing gun violence should be a universal, non-partisan issue that all Americans can agree on, but because the gun lobby has effectively secured a seat on the GOP platform, people seem unable to have any sort of coherent conversation about the issue. Instead, when residents or politicians call for policies that target reducing gun violence or even suggest studies of the impact of gun violence, they are faced with an onslaught of criticism, including the instantly gaslighting phrase, “you want to take everyone’s guns away!”
Typically, after gun violence wracks a community, naming gun violence as a systemic problem is seen as almost inherently crass. It’s like we’ve convinced ourselves that community handholding and prayer are more important than naming systemic problems—or at least that those things are somehow in conflict with one another. It’s as though the discussion of issues is somehow irreverent until we’ve prayed hard and long enough.
It’s not crass to call out our country’s lack of backbone when it comes to addressing a very real, very alarming gun violence problem. What is, in fact, crass is that those of us willing to name the obvious are shamed or gaslighted for doing so.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
There is no denying that we have a serious gun problem in this country. School lockdowns are just one symptom of the U.S.’s gun violence problem. Our culture has come to a place where we shrug our shoulders and continue shoveling our dinner into our mouths as our children tell us about the events of their day that sometimes includes hiding under a desk.
Gun violence prevention doesn’t mean taking all of the guns from all of the people. But, the gun industry depends on a good amount of people buying into that garbage in order to sustain their bottom line.
Four robocalls informing me about the threat of gun violence in nine weeks is too many. I’ve begun to feel so triggered every time I get one, feeling a sense of dread every second of the recording, until I hear that everything is okay, that I’ve asked my child to please text me when they are in a lockdown so I know he’s okay before I get the call from the school.
As I sat writing this, I received the following text from my high schooler:
“There was gunfire (at the park next door), we’re in soft lockdown.”
The robocall I got about an hour after his text said that the school later learned it was just fireworks.
I’m glad the school is proactive. A year ago after a gun was discharged in the school bathroom, parents called for more proactivity regarding lockdowns and information relay to parents. I’m grateful that the school listened and that they are doing better about lockdowns and informing parents.
Still, yesterday was yet another lockdown, still another robocall, piling onto my dread, and onto others’ sort of shoulder shrugging that this is merely the new normal that our kids exist in. The new normal we have collectively deemed too polarizing to tackle.
So, I guess make that five alerts. Five alerts in nine weeks.