“I don’t feel safe anymore…. Last year, two guns were brought to my school…. As soon as I see my class for the first time, my first thought is how to get out. How to escape the school that is supposed to keep me safe, and I think that’s really messed up.”
- "Having to go to school next year, I don't know, it's a really big decision and going to school shouldn't have to be a big decision, but it is…. I'm terrified for my life to go back to school. I have senior year and that's it. Am I going to survive it? I'm here begging for you guys to do something…."
Do You Hear the Fear Expressed by These Students?
Fear causes nervousness, anxiety, and leaves a permanent imprint on the brain. You never forget the trauma of hearing the gun shots or being terrified that you will be the next one to be shot. Such fear causes psychological harm.
Do you remember from January, when we were talking about whether masks were psychologically harmful or the psychological harms of online instruction vs. in-person instruction in the classroom? Well, school shootings cause real psychological harm, not just some contrived harm based on social media misinformation.
Go back and reread what we said caused psychological harm: Should We Be Sending Students Back to School, Part 2. Does Remote Learning Cause Psychological Harm?
Then, as now, we established that what causes psychological harm is fear. And yes, gun violence was listed as one of the major causes of fear in the classroom. Bullying causes fear. Academic failure causes fear. Even COVID causes fear. We’ll talk more about these other causes of fear later, but for now, I want to talk about the fear that students face every day because of gun violence, especially the fear of mass shootings in school.
What Is Fear?
Fear is an unpleasant emotion. Remember, emotions are reactions.
Yes, fear can be good sometimes, like fear of snakes can help you be wary of watching out for snakes when you're out hiking. But chronic fear, year after year, interrupts the regular thought processes of the brain, keeps the brain from regulating our emotions, and even inhibits decision-making.
Researchers have found that students who have experienced a shooting at their school have a higher rate of absenteeism after the shooting, are often more likely to drop out of school before graduation and may even experience lower incomes in their adult lives after living through a school shooting. Children or teens who live through a school shooting are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, struggle with depression and anxiety, or even suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Students who survive gun violence in the school firsthand may turn to aggressive and violent behavior or even criminal activity.
Children and teens may have lower grades after living through a mass shooting, even lower test scores on standardized tests. Why? Because students find it hard to concentrate. If you cannot concentrate, you cannot learn. When the brain is consumed by fear, it cannot learn new information.
As the Everytown research team said,
“All incidents of gun violence in schools, regardless of their intent or victim count, compromise the safety of students and staff.”
So, to answer our opening question: Is it harmful for children and teens to go to school?
The answer is yes—both physically and psychologically.
To requote Kevin R. Brock, an expert and professional consultant on safety,:
“No child in our schools today is completely safe from being shot and killed while in the classroom.”
For more on Brock’s assessment of safety in schools, read: Is It Physically and Psychologically Harmful for Children to Go to School? Part 1
So, where does this leave the children, teens, and teachers in the classroom?
It Leaves Students and Teachers Afraid to Go to School.
A CBS News poll conducted found that over half of the parents contacted are afraid for their child or teen to return to school. This article offers several interesting charts.
Students Are Also Scared.
One student, now a sophomore in high school, was in kindergarten when 20 students and four staff members were killed at Sandy Hook. She has spent her entire school career doing mass shooter drills, lockdowns, and being afraid.
“Every time there’s a mass shooting, everyone freaks out, finds someone to blame, offers thoughts and prayers, and nothing happens…. Somehow, it’s rarely the gun’s fault.”
As one ten-year-old stated very eloquently,
"The school shooting in Texas has me worried. I am 10, and to hear kids my age passed away due to a school shooting is mortifying. It makes me scared to go to school again next year. We kids shouldn't have to live in fear of being shot."
Will the New Gun Legislation Reduce the Fear?
Congress finally passed new gun legislation. Will it be enough? Will it stop the mass killings? The Coalition of National Researchers on Violence Prevention and other experts say, No. Why? Because the legislation did not expand background checks, ban assault weapons, or raise the minimum age of purchase on guns.
So, what should we do? Congress is not going to take action to actually reduce the danger and the fear. Yes, the new legislation is better than nothing, but what will happen to the students and their fears after the next mass shooting. Our students need help, now.
Yes, I know, it's summer and except for summer school classes and special programs there's no one in the school buildings. You're probably saying, “it's safe for now.” But is it?
What about the fear, the trauma? Does fear dissolve and simply vanish over the summer? No.
If you listen carefully, you hear fear being expressed by the children and teens. Students are already worrying about school next year. Why? Because they are afraid that their school will be the site of the next mass shooting and that they will die. Can you imagine being eight years old and worrying that you will not live long enough to be 9?
As two students said,
“No one is doing anything to make me feel safe at school.”
“We deserve to have a childhood.”
And children do deserve a childhood, a safe childhood, a safe classroom. They deserve not to be afraid to go to school.
Instead of patting yourself on the back for passing one flimsy, ineffective bit of gun legislation, listen to the words of the following two students:
"Honestly, my generation is mad – me, my friends, people I don’t know, people who I’ve met online, everyone leading these movements – we're mad, we're angry. And I think we’re honestly mad at the adults in our life. We’re mad at Congress for allowing children to become victims of gun violence over and over again and not passing things. When Sandy Hook happened, they said never again. And it happens again and again and again. And that makes me lose my faith [in] the adults in this world. It makes me lose my faith in Congress to do their job to protect me, to protect my peers. ... We're not going to go through the cycle of saying, oh, thoughts and prayers, every time a shooting happens and then going on with our normal life. We are going to break that cycle eventually. And the way we break it is by putting pressure on adults to not send thoughts and prayers, but instead pass something that will actually make a difference."
"I pray that the nation will wake up and say that the lives of human beings matter so much more than the right to bear arms…."
Do you hear the fear? Because these may be the children and teens you kill next by your refusal to take a stand against gun violence.
These young people are experiencing real psychological harm, and we have caused this psychological harm by not keeping them safe.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, how can you claim to be pro-life for the unborn fetus and at the same time shout-down gun laws that would save the lives of children in the classroom? Stop supporting the NRA and support the children instead. As one child said,
“We deserve to have a childhood.”
No, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be pro-guns and pro-life at the same time because guns are pro-death. Yes, guns kill.
Every politician who refuses to vote for stronger gun legislation, every gun owner who shouts that 2nd amendment rights are more important than the lives of children and teens, and every gun seller and advertisement that temps someone to buy a gun so that they can go out and kill is guilty of causing the fear and psychological harm that plagues our children and youth as they sit in the classroom trying to learn. How can you learn when you are scared to death that you may be the next to die when a shooter comes charging through the door with a gun that you allowed and said that he had a 2nd amendment right to buy, carry, and use to kill children?
Be Pro-Life for Children and Teens, not Pro-Guns for Murder.