Most of us grew up with lockdowns. They usually consisted of a teacher flicking off the lights, maybe even blacking out a window with dark paper and pointing the entire class to a corner of the classroom, where we’d sit in agonizing silence until an administrator came to give the “all clear.” The Columbine shooting was when people first really began to talk about school shootings. However, only in recent years were school shootings constantly in the news and talked about in legislation.
In the early 2000s, there were some school shootings that resulted in several killings, but those numbers have only continued to grow in recent years. The U.S. Naval Postgraduate School did a study on school gun violence in the U.S., which is defined as any time a gun was brandished or fired in a school property or a bullet hit a school property, regardless of the time of the day or week that it happened or if any deaths occurred. The study used multiple sources like the media and government reports dating back to 1970. The average number of school gun violence incidents from 2000 to 2010 was about 33 per year and the average number of deaths was 14. The point is that lockdown drills were implemented for a good reason.
But, now after major schools shootings like Parkland and Sandy Hook, school drills have grown more serious through the use of local law enforcement and companies created solely to implement school-shooter drills, where someone acts as an active shooter on campuses. In Florida, a drill went wrong when a teacher-wide text was sent out saying there was a shooter on campus, without any indication it was a drill, causing teachers and students to panic. This raises the question: How far is too far?
If we look at the data from last year, 2018 is by far the highest with 55 deaths and 94 incidents of school gun violence. It’s unclear why the numbers are so high, but it’s the same year of the Parkland shooting, the third largest school shooting in U.S. history. To put those numbers into perspective, 2017 had 24 deaths and 43 incidents involving gun violence in schools. Those numbers more than doubled in a year, causing school districts to double down on their own lockdown drills, which are now sometimes called “active-shooter drills.” We grew up when lockdown drills were a break in the day, and the worst part was having to sit silently for 10 minutes. Now, entire companies have arisen to simulate active-shooter drills as an attempt to prepare kids.
What happens during those drills depends on the school district, but they can become disturbingly real. An elementary school in Monticello, Indiana, made news after an active-shooter drill resulted in teachers being taken into a room four at a time and shot execution style with a pellet gun by local officers. There’s a difference between being prepared for a situation and emotionally scarring someone.
In 2018, The Washington Post did an extensive amount of research on lockdowns. It found that more than 1 million elementary-aged children had to partake in lockdowns, a little less than a quarter of those children were kindergarteners or preschoolers. It’s hard to say how children will react to being exposed to serious topics that usually come up during intense lockdown situations, but Steven Schlozman, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor and child psychiatrist, says that there could be lasting symptoms triggered from these intense situations like “depression, anxiety, poor sleep, post-traumatic symptomatology and substance abuse.”
Mental health and gun violence are often discussed together, but what happens when trying to keep kids safe can cause more mental harm. Kids are being exposed to gun violence in a way our generation never was, and it’s happening at school, where they’re supposed to feel safe. We understand that safety precautions need to be put into place, but maybe the best course of action is prevention like stricter gun laws and better mental health counseling in schools. Lockdowns and active-shooter drills aren’t really preventing anything, they’re for worst-case-scenarios that shouldn’t happen in the first place.