by Brad Blackburn III
I remember being in elementary school, huddled in the corner of a dark classroom as my teacher locked the door and instructed us to be silent. As I observed my peers, I noticed an array of behaviors in response to practicing the most terrifying scenario we could have imagined. Some stricken with anxiety, others silently crying with their heads in their laps, and others with smiles on their faces, chuckling ever so quietly as we conducted the active shooter drill.
I was one of those kids who smiled — viewing the active shooter drill as a thrilling game of hide-and-go-seek. As a 7-year-old child, I could not comprehend the magnitude of what was taking place. But underneath my smile was the feeling of fear. I couldn’t help but wonder what if? After what seemed like forever, we heard a loud bang on our classroom door followed by an attempt to open it. Many of us were startled by this sudden noise that broke the eerie silence. One of my classmates let out a scream that was immediately followed by a wave of shushes from peers and our teacher. Finally, the voice of our principal blared over the intercom and we were informed that the drill was complete. We returned to our seats, turned the lights on, and continued with instruction as if nothing had happened.
This was not the first or the last time my peers and I experienced an active shooter drill. As we got older, many of us inevitably became numb to them. Now, this was our normal — regularly preparing for the day that we may face death.
Everyone has a different reaction to traumatic, anxiety-inducing situations based on their lived experiences. Some may cry, some may be silent, some may suffer from panic attacks. Others, like myself, may laugh or smile as a coping mechanism in a subconscious attempt to remain calm during stressful situations. Regardless of the reasoning, what I know about these drills is that they instilled fear in my peers and me. As early as I can remember, the looming threat of an active shooter on campus never vanished from our thoughts.
Some may say that active shooter drills are necessary because the reality is that traumatic events regularly happen in our country. Despite this chilling reality, I challenge advocates for active shooter drills to ask if they are truly effective at preparing young children for the moment their lives are in immediate danger. As a student who sat through these drills, I can tell you that there is no way for an oversized classroom of 30 elementary students and one teacher to prepare for a gunman breaking in and opening fire. What I learned from these drills is simple: Huddle together, stay silent, and pray the shooter doesn’t come into our room. Forcing students to unexpectedly remain silent on the floor as faculty walk around banging on classroom doors has no regard for the past and present trauma our children face. Students with prior experiences of gun violence, abuse, domestic violence, and so on may be triggered by the intensity of these drills.
In April of 2015, two of my cousins were in the commons of North Thurston High School when a gunman opened fire before the start of the school day. Luckily, nobody was hurt or injured, and a brave teacher was able to tackle the student. But at that moment, my relatives were not thinking of the many drills they had practiced as elementary students. As peoples’ fight-or-flight instincts kicked in, all protocol was out the window.
This does not have to be our reality, and now is the time for lawmakers to step up to protect our children. We cannot accept school shootings as our reality and force our children to enter the classroom prepared for the day when they have to play dead in hopes a shooter will pass over them. Our focus must be on common-sense gun reform, while using trauma-informed methods to discuss the possibilities with students.
Our lawmakers have the responsibility to pass stronger gun laws and invest in gun violence prevention programs. But each of us has a role to play in this fight, and there are so many ways to get involved.
- Show Up: Get involved with a gun violence prevention organization in your community! You can find out how to get involved with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and find many other groups working to keep our communities safe.
- Speak Out: Write to your elected leaders and urge them to prioritize gun responsibility. Talk to your friends and family about gun violence and direct them to resources like the Alliance for Gun Responsibility to learn more.
- Vote: We need elected leaders in office who will treat gun violence like the public health crisis that it is. Vote this November (and in every election), and vote for gun violence prevention champions.
Together, we can keep our schools and communities safe from gun violence.
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Brad Blackburn III is the executive assistant and board liaison at the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
📸 Featured image by Susan Fried.
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