“I just feel numb. It’s horrible but it’s just the latest shooting.”
When I asked Jake (17 years old) how he was, he replied that a lot. We were learning about the deaths of many Uvalde teachers and children last Tuesday night. This is what my son knew all his life. Almost 10 years ago, he hid in his third-grade classroom, listening to what he thought were metal chairs crashing into each other over the school’s messaging system. He was actually hearing 154 bullets from the AR-15 that killed 20 first-graders as well as six teachers. He heard Dylan his brother being killed.
I wonder whether Jake’s response was from the trauma from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, or the enduring anxiety and pain his generation has experienced throughout this last decade. They are children who have been exposed to gun violence and families that were destroyed, as well as communities in turmoil, since childhood. These are the children who are regularly practicing active-shooter drills, even if they aren’t hearing of school shootings. It was two years ago that I recall seeing an unidentified student comment on TV about her curiosity as to when her school would next be after the Santa Clarita High School shooting.
This is what too many youth believe – that school shootings and gun violence are an inevitable part of their lives.
Nicole Hockley with husband Ian Hockley. Jake is between.
My understanding of their viewpoint is clear from the data. Gun Violence Archive says that in the 10 years Jake has been hiding in his school classroom, there have been 948 school shootings, resulting in more than 35,000 deaths and injuries to children and teens. We have seen 233 school shootings and 27 mass shootings within the United States in just five months. This trauma is shaping this generation’s psyche.
Take into account: Brown University recently found that 30177 U.S. veterans and servicemen killed themselves in post-9/11 wars, which is more than triple the number of suicides among the 7,052 who died during the conflict. They couldn’t overcome the trauma of wartime combat.
Gun violence and suicide among children and young people in America are the top causes of death. What are the similarities to military vets? Is our school now a domestic battlefield?
Many will say that this is why there are more security officers and teachers. They also need harderening methods such as bulletproof backpacks, locks, and other access doors. Students as young as pre-school age can practice their skills in active shooter drills. However, these tactics do not address imminent danger. Instead, we should be focusing on ways to stop violence occurring.
Some politicians argue we need more guns to protect ourselves from the “bad guys.” But the U.S. already has more guns than people – 120.5 guns for every 100 people – so clearly that doesn’t work. And even if it did, how do we identify the “bad people” before they begin shooting? Some politicians even go as far to attribute all gun violence to mental health. But if that were truly the problem, wouldn’t those same politicians support policy that restricts someone with mental health issues from accessing firearms?
Yes, we need to provide more mental health funding and resources, remove stigma and treat “mental” health as just “health.” Yes, we need to teach everyone how to recognize the warning signs of someone who needs help, and then take action to prevent any escalation. We know that this preventative approach works and is the main focus of Sandy Hook Promise. Nine credible school shootings have been stopped and more than 300 suicide attempts by our programs. We can help people with depression, anxiety, isolation and anger to prevent violence and harm and allow them to have productive, positive lives.
We also know escalating gun violence will not stop if we don’t address easy, unrestricted access to firearms. It’s not about taking away Constitutional rights – it’s about sensible regulations that protect our collective right to life.
Congress is now discussing a comprehensive package of gun safety and mental health measures. It includes policies such as background checks, safe storage and extreme protection orders. Though this package won’t solve the issue of gun violence, it is a huge step forward and includes many policies that will save lives and provide better mental health support for anyone who needs it.
There is more hope in my life than ever before. Our current generation needs this. It is important that they see we are able to put aside our political partisanship and come up with solutions for them and their future generations.
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