Fifteen years ago, two seniors opened fire at Columbine High School. They killed 12 students and one teacher, in what remains the deadliest mass murder committed on an American high school campus. The unprecedented event shocked, saddened, and horrified people across the nation. While every school shooting since has induced the same feelings of sadness and horror, the shock seems to be fading.
That’s because a school shooting is no longer an anomaly. From the Wikipedia page dedicated to listing these events, I count 66 incidents in this decade. And we’re not very far into this decade. The latest addition comes from Roswell, New Mexico. It was breaking news last Tuesday: 12-year-old in custody after 2 students shot at New Mexico middle school. For a moment I thought the list was incomplete when I didn’t see the Arapahoe High shooting that took place in Colorado last month listed directly above it. I didn’t realize three shootings had occurred in between.
My school has responded to each event with increased security measures. We’ve started locking the doors at the bottom of the school, for example, forcing everyone to use the main entrance for much of the day. While this is often inconvenient, at least I can take consolation in knowing any potential shooters would be thoroughly thwarted by this ingenious tactic. After the Arapahoe tragedy, swift action was taken again. In a cunning gesture of decisive practicality, the school procured a very large desk. It now sits awkwardly in the hallway at the top of the school, manned by a security guard who watches people as they come in. Safety attained!
There is certainly more to the story. I know my school has worked very hard, as have schools around the country, to find solutions to this immensely complex and terrifying issue. I am deeply grateful for all the people working to keep me safe at school, and I appreciate the difficulty of finding suitable actions. But the locked doors and the desk just don’t make a lot of sense to me.
My concern with increased security is a fundamental one: there’s no end in sight. The kind of security implemented at schools across the country is far from perfect. It can, and will, be broken. There is no indication the shootings will slow. With every attack, more security will be added. We’ll install cameras. We’ll make kids walk through metal detectors. We’ll hire more police officers and security guards. We’ll start monitoring Facebook accounts and Google searches to identify high-risk students.
The amount of security can increase indefinitely, and it will, because adding security doesn’t resolve anything. It doesn’t address any underlying issues. Total safety can never be achieved through security– the system is always beatable. We can certainly improve safety through security, but at what cost? Transforming schools into prisons, promoting anxiety, paranoia, and fear, in a place previously committed to learning and development.
Like schools, the TSA has responded to threats and attacks by adding more and more security, (“now you have to take your shoes off… now you can’t bring water onboard… now you have to walk through THESE scanners…etc.”). As with schools, airport security can increase without bound, and it will, because (1) someone will always be able to beat it, warranting increased security, and (2) security doesn’t resolve the underlying issue. The underlying issue is a big one in this case: some people want to blow up planes and harm our country. Ideally, the TSA would be charged with addressing that problem. Ideally, they would create world peace, finally making air travel truly safe. But unfortunately, that’s not going to happen anytime soon, so I accept airport security for now (though I wish it was more efficient and effective.)
But keeping our schools safe does not require world peace. All it takes is ensuring that no one in a community of 500…1,000…2,000 students feels so alienated, angry, hopeless, and desperate that they’re willing to start killing people. Is that really unattainable? This is a complex issue, and I certainly don’t understand it completely. There are many factors to consider, and I don’t have all the answers. But I have a suggestion: be kind.
The fact that school shootings are happening at an ever-increasing rate is not an indication that we need more security– its an indication we need to change our culture. And if you’re a student, you’re a part of the culture. So please, do your part to spread love, peace, acceptance, and joy. Please: be humble and be forgiving. Take care of your peers, and don’t bring them down. Celebrate the strengths of those around you. Give compliments often. Reach out. Check in.
Cruelty is often rooted in insecurity, so find the strength to love yourself, forgive yourself, and embrace your own flaws. Find the strength to be kind. Remember: anyone can make conflict, but only the strong can make peace. Weak people hate. Weak people fight. Weak people create problems. Strong people fix them. Be strong! Create love! Create peace! And don’t assume you know someone, based on a few shallow interactions. Everyone is far more complex than the mask they wear. So let’s peel away the masks, let’s break down the walls, and let’s discover the incredible unity of all human life. We’re all people, and we’re all okay, and we all have the capacity to get along.
My assessment of the situation is surely incomplete, but nonetheless, that’s my humble appeal to the students of the world.