American Schools Have a Permanent Gun to Their Head

At twelve years old, my father attempted to shield me from the Sandy Hook shooting. In his mind, there was no point in burdening a child on such a rare tragedy. Seven years later, it is difficult to conceal the common issue of school shootings from a developing child. By the time I got to high school it was a conversation that followed me from the dinner table to the classroom where I was mentally planning my escape route if need be. Collectively, my friends and I agreed that the safest place to hide would be in our school’s theater. With all of its hidden stairways, closets, nooks and crannies, it would take forever for someone, or more importantly, their gun, to find you there. Every new major school shooting was shocking to my friends and I as the number of victims only seemed to increase, triggering the question if we were next.  With the rise of school shootings in the 2010s, the American public has become desensitized to the recurrent tragedies. My mind has become numb to the headlines that previously caused a river of tears, and now only a shake of the head.  

As blunt as it may be, students have somewhat normalized the idea of their own deaths. Schools have made school shooting drills as necessary and common as fire drills. However, a school shooting drill is one filled with teachers mapping an escape route, detailing the various targets a shooter has, and having to lock the door on the students who could not run fast enough into the class. Gun violence in schools has become a human rights issue as increasingly more students lose their rights to not only their education, but their life. Furthermore, while in school, students have no means of protection against a gun, and are completely vulnerable. Shootings in America set the precedent for education to no longer be looked at as just a right, but a fear.  

Gun violence is debilitating the safe environment schools are meant to house in order for a child to learn and grow. KK Ottesen of the Washington Post articulates an interesting point in her interview with Parkland survivor and #NeverAgain movement co-organizer  David Hogg. Hogg brings up the point that guns are associated with freedom but “living through instances of gun violence on a daily basis and children having to go through active shooter drills is not what freedom looks like to me.”  It is a human rights violation for them to feel their lives are always in danger in a place they are required to attend to earn their education. These students having to prepare for a school shooter drill proves that at school they have to fight for their life. As the Sandy Hook tragedy marked the beginning of a heightened wave of school shootings in the 2010s, Natalie Chap and Liz Sullivan’s work titled “How Do We Make Schools Safer?”,discusses the Model Code as a possible answer to gun violence in schools.  The Model Code takes a “human-rights approach” to the school system by aiming to “respect the rights and needs of the individuals who study in, work in, and support our schools.” This approach will combat “school pushout” and create “policies that protect human rights and meet students’ needs.”  By treating the issues plaguing our education system through a human rights approach in which everyone is treated and represented equally, students will feel safe and well represented at school. This means if academic, social, and emotional needs of students should be met through a human rights approach so does the issue of school gun violence. The risk of young kids’ lives is enough for the fight against gun violence to be a fight for human rights.  

It is as important to take care of students’ mental health as it is their physical health. After a school shooting students find it traumatizing to return to the place where they almost lost their lives.  After the Columbine High School shooting, “Frank DeAngelis, the former principal, estimated that nearly 20 percent of students didn’t return to the school after two teenage shooters killed 13 people in 1999.”A similar pattern occurred following a Texas school shooting in May 2018 that left ten people dead. Additionally, the AP Regional State Report revealed, “about 200 fewer students are attending the rural suburban district’s schools this year compared to the 2017-2018 school year.” Gun violence steals not only lives, but these students’ education. The everyday stress of attending school is obviously affecting the mental health of students.  Gun violence not only does immediate damage, but leaves a ripple effect where students who survived are still fighting for their old life back. The promised safety of school can no longer be guaranteed until action has been taken place to ensure that students on campus will have the right to life and education. 

How can a country that has a constitution granting individual rights and freedom allow frequent gun violence in schools to persist? 

The strong influence of the National Rifle Association on prominent politicians in today’s government prevents formative action from taking place. The NRA pays large sums to politicians to protect gun rights, with the NRA donating up to $7.4 million to prominent senators. The NRA spent $11,438,118 alone on Donald Trump’s campaign to ensure his views would remain in favor of the NRA.  Additionally, many adults roadblocking gun reform across America have not experienced the same traumas of today’s generation. The youth of America understands the urgency of gun reform as Generation Z refuses to accept gun violence as a part of their fate. However, as much as they want to, most of the children and teens who are affected by school shootings are unable to change the gun policies and regulations themselves. Charlotte Alter analyzes the political effect the Parkland shooting had on its students by reiterating that they “cannot vote, order a beer, make a hotel reservation or afford a pizza without pooling some of their allowance”. Sadly, they are merely kids who need assistance from adults to make a change in society. Without gun control, kids are left vulnerable to be continuously victimized by gun violence, violating their right to live. Teenagers have already been utilizing their voice to create mass waves in America’s gun conversation. A group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who survived the shooting and formed the #NeverAgain movement received global attention for their fight towards gun reform, sparking the March for Our Lives movement. Alter describes the teens of the  #NeverAgain movement as “idealistic teenagers who set out to change the world, only to find it is not so easy” But these students have “become the central organizers of what may turn out to be the most powerful grassroots gun-reform movement in nearly two decades.” These movements are proven to be powerful in spreading awareness, but these teens’ voices can only take them so far as it is the policymakers and eligible voters responsibility for turning their message into positive change in our country. 

 It is easy to believe the education system is not flawed as it does not take shape in the form of young girls not having the right or means to an education in a third world country. However, the American school system is greatly flawed as many students, no matter race or gender, attend school fearing for their life.  It is important to remember that school shootings violate basic human rights that each child deserves, and it is up to the voting adults in this country to take action now. By being aware and proactive voters, gun violence can be greatly eradicated, hopefully putting the minds of distressed students at ease.