When you look at the headlines, it’s not surprising UK residents feel their communities are less safe these days. Reports of stabbings, acid attacks and foiled terror plots are common fare in our daily news bulletins.
Some attacks are random, but most are not. Be grateful for small mercies, as the saying goes. At least, unless your own life, your own family, is touched by one of these tragic events. If that’s the case, then I’m truly sorry.
But one thing parents in the UK can be grateful for is that their children don’t have to take part in active shooter drills – unlike their US counterparts. It was reported that 2018 was the worst year for school shootings in America, while at the time of writing the most recent attack was just two days ago – two people were killed and four injured by a gunman at the University of North Caroline at Charlotte.
The rising figures have led to an increase in active shooter drills, first introduced following the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. On April 20, teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 12 of their fellow students and one teacher. They also wounded more than 20 others before committing suicide.
More shootings – more drills
During an active shooter drill, children and staff essentially act out what might happen in the event of a gun attack and practise staying quiet and – hopefully – safe. Staff might play the role of the shooter, jiggling doorknobs and moving from room to room while the children practice keeping perfectly still and silent, or try to quietly reach identified hiding places. In Indiana, teachers were even reportedly shot execution-style with pellets during one such drill.
Better to be prepared, you might think. The problem is, the drills are said to be traumatising some children to such a degree that it’s affecting their health and wellbeing – and adults, too.
A video released by March For Our Lives, the anti-gun violence movement, featured a young girl teaching adults what to do in the event of an attack. Some of the responses on social media were heart-breaking.
“Now when I hear doors slam too loudly in my dorm hall I get a little bit frightened that something is going down. I have a plan on where to hide in every classroom. We had a false alarm on campus because people were popping balloons. We shouldn’t live in fear,” said @RoselyMonster on Twitter, using the hashtag #GenerationLockdown.
And @KazWeida posted: “My six-year-old daughter last year after an actual lockdown: ‘The best places to hide are the big cupboards. But how do we choose, Mom?’ ‘What do you mean, sweetie?’ ‘There’s not enough room for everyone. How do we choose who gets to hide and who has to die?’”
Ryan Marino, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Pittsburgh, recalls that his school started having drills after one student was found to have a ‘death list’ and access to guns. But the sessions didn’t seem real until, one day, a fellow student coughed and the teacher said they’d have all been dead if that happened in a real-life situation.
“That single experience shaped my childhood,” he says. “Having to practice and prepare for a peer coming to my school and shooting at me and my friends was something that really changed the overall atmosphere.”
If the drills saved lives, perhaps this would be worth it. But the truth is, we don’t know if they do.
A change in the law
On March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton marched into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. He murdered 16 children and one teacher with a handgun that, at the time, was perfectly legal. He then turned the gun on himself.
The law was subsequently changed In the UK to outlaw such weapons, and there hasn’t been a school shooting there since. Perhaps the answer is for the US to examine its own gun laws rather than teach kids how to deal with the potential consequences – treat the cause instead of the symptoms, so to speak.
No, life in Great Britain isn’t perfect. There is violence and crime every day. Far too many people are attacked, stabbed, mugged and worse. But at least we don’t have to sit down with our six-year-olds and discuss which of their classmates should live and which should be sacrificed.