187,000 children have lived through a school shooting—but a generation has grown up under the threat

Hunter – Daily Kos Staff – 01 April 2018

“An important thing to remember in the new student-led movement to tighten American gun laws is that it is not, in fact, a movement. It is a new American reality. Young Americans have been raised in an environment different from that of past generations; for them, the threat of being murdered in school is something they grew up with.

Beginning with Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a year-long Washington Post analysis. This means that the number of children who have been shaken by gunfire in the places they go to learn exceeds the population of Eugene, Ore., or Fort Lauderdale, Fla.                            IMG_3563.jpg

That number represents only the American students who have directly experienced a shooting at their school, while in school. But even that is not the whole story. In response to those shootings, American politicians have resisted new restrictions on guns and instead largely gone along with the NRA-endorsed plan of instead “hardening” school security under the presumption that gun violence is inevitable. This, too, has become the new reality for American students: even those that have not experienced a school shooting firsthand have seen their schools respond to the unending list of shootings elsewhere with new rules, and new bulletproof glass, and new drills teaching even the youngest students how to best hide from murderers.

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Every day, threats send classrooms into lockdowns that can frighten students, even when they turn out to be false alarms. Thousands of schools conduct active-shooter drills in which kids as young as 4 hide in darkened closets and bathrooms from imaginary murderers.

“It’s no longer the default that going to school is going to make you feel safe,” said Bruce D. Perry, a psychiatrist and one of the country’s leading experts on childhood trauma. “Even kids who come from middle-class and upper-middle-class communities literally don’t feel safe in schools.”

And why would they? No American alive felt safer hiding under their desk from imagined nuclear bombs than they would have otherwise. No small child is going to feel safer in the knowledge that if their school becomes the next Sandy Hook Elementary, at least they know which closets to hide in or which doors to lock. It is monstrous. It is cruel. All of this, rather than restricting who can own weapons of efficient mass murder, sends the inevitable message to America’s next generation that they are expendable. They are, compared to the questionable hobbies and beliefs of their elders, disposable.

Children are not dumb. They know when they are valued, and they know when they are not. And America’s children have grown up, an entire generation of them, watching the “gun debate” play out under constant headlines of shootings one day, political cowardice the next. It is not merely on the news; they hide in closets in preparation for the possibility. It is not something they see only on television, but something they, themselves, are expected to be prepared for. Know where to hide. Know when to run. Know which direction to run. Know that it is because someone, someday, may come to kill you.

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It is not just the shootings that happened during school hours, but the ones that did not. Does anyone think that a school shooting that happens after-hours is ignored by the students the following day? The next month? And it is not just the shootings on school grounds, but the ones in their own communities. Do we sincerely believe it does not come up? The ones they did not experience themselves, but a friend did. Children know these things. They are not dumb.

An American who spent their childhood years going to a hardened school is going to have a different opinion about the rights of potential attackers than those who did not. As they come of voting age, they are going to express those opinions. A child who even once experienced a school shooter drill, knowing full well that the reason for the drill was not abstract, but based on actual events in schools like their own, is going to remember it forever.

At the moment the newly-minted activists among the Stoneman Douglas teens are being targeted by the National Rifle Association using the tools of their trade: they are the subject of conspiracy theories, and false claims, and dark warnings that this mere handful of students is an existential threat to the Constitution, or at least the only fragment of it the association cares about. The use of tools usually used to beat weak-kneed politicians into submission makes for an awkward sight when those same attacks are used on the victims of mass shootings themselves. But zealots who believe the Constitution grants the powers it grants to allow them, personally, to someday take up arms against their own nation, have little other rhetoric to fall back on.

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It is, however, not just a ridiculous battle, but a pointless one. The group means to make an example of teen activists by subjecting them to the usual threats, and outrage, and would-be mockery. And if it works? It will not make a damn bit of difference. The number of American children who have now grown up in a post-Columbine school consists of All Of Them. There is not a child alive who does not know what happened at Sandy Hook, or who is oblivious, in these weeks, to the murders in Parkland. Nearly 200,000 of them have stories of shootings that they themselves can tell.

Conspiracists imagine post-Parkland activism as a momentary movement that can be overcome. It is not. It is generational. The experiment has already been performed; in response to escalating gun violence, we turned our schools into cages, and we taught our children to hide inside them. We told them that gun rights were more important, and that hiding in closets was the best we, as a nation, could offer them. We told them stories about would-be good shooters that never appeared, or were never funded, or were never more than a crass lie to begin with. We did it for 20 years.

And now those children are coming of age, and they do not think very highly of their elders at all. They do not think highly of the notion that they and their friends had to hide in closets so that shouting, sweaty malcontents could keep their aspirational dreams of someday perhaps murdering fellow Americans in a heroic way. They do not think highly of the furious, spitting lobbyists who have made a fine public living demanding that they lock school doors and learn to hide in dark closets. They think even less of the cowards of Washington who, in their lifetimes, made it happen.

That is not something that conspiracy theorists can battle. They can threaten the Parkland activists; it will, if anything, convince even more of their peers of the imminent, lunatic danger the gun-obsessed present. But they cannot threaten an entire generation, at least not in the voting booths. This is of our own making. Our children have grown up, and they will pass their own judgment. God help any that stand in their way.”

Photo: WHM, MBarrettMIller/ConnemaraProductions

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