Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and now Uvalde.
Mass shootings are not a new thing and are only becoming more frequent. In 2020 alone, there were more than 600 mass shootings across the country. Moreover, since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, there have been more than 300 school shootings. This number does not even include misfires and stopped attempts. More than 300,000 kids have experienced violence and danger at their schools related to guns since Columbine High School. And while that number may not seem like a lot compared to the estimated 40 million kids in school in the U.S. right now, it‘s equivalent to almost a third of the population of Rhode Island being terrorized and experiencing some sort of violence.
Not every kid has experienced gun violence in their school, but almost every child has now experienced an active shooter drill. Active shooter drills have the good intention of protecting kids and preparing them for the worst possible situation. At the same time, are they causing more trauma than good?
How do schools run active shooter drills? Well, it varies from state to state and school to school. Some schools involve police officers and local enforcement in drills. In my personal experience (I am 15 and in 10th grade), security and administration would go around and bang and scream at the doors during my middle school years. Many times, even the teachers did not know that it was a drill. A kid once texted his mom during the drill and ended up getting a suspension for it. This practice gave kids in that school fear of contacting our family during a drill to tell them that we were not dead. Some schools across the country fire blank rounds during drills and hire kids in the school to play injured or dead students. Exiting students see their fellow students lying on the floor as if dead. Seeing classmates and friends lying on the ground during a drill that many believe is real, leaves trauma.
Only 9 states do not require active shooter drills in schools. Kids are in school for an average of nine months out of a year. If they are in a state where a once-a-month drill is required, they experience 9 or 10 drills a year. If that student stays in that school system or state for their entire K-12 education, they will experience roughly 115 to 130 active shooter drills during that time period. This causes a level of both stress and numbness that can leave the entire current generation feeling as if school shootings are normal.
But what we don’t talk about is that this is not normal at all. From 2009-2018 the U.S. had 57 times as many school shootings from kindergarten through the college level than all the other G7 countries (Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, and the U.K.) combined. In a more expansive view of 26 countries compared to the U.S. in the same time period, the United States had 288 school shootings and none of the other 26 countries studied had more than 8. In fact, eight of those countries had no identified shootings and another 8 only had one.
Some schools now perform “trauma-informed” drills. Such states as New Jersey started to do trauma-informed drills that include informing parents, setting limits on length, and “prohibiting rewarding children for fighting off potential gunmen.” The state of Kentucky guide for lockdown drills notes that the objective is to “minimize the potential [of] re-traumatizing of students or staff.” With this we can assume that students and staff are already traumatized.
School shooting drills have been linked to over a 30% increase of both anxiety and depression. There is no other way to say it except for the fact the school shooting drills have and will continue to traumatize both this generation and continuing generations until we change something.
Maebel Haynes is a sophomore at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs.