“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The ways in which modern America fails to meet the needs of our children are numerous and egregious, but perhaps the most basic is our failure to keep our children safe in their schools. In Florida, 17 teenagers and educators died in the very hallways and classrooms designed to nurture, encourage and support them. This is not an isolated, rare incident; it is a regular occurrence in America — an epidemic of violence unparalleled by any other developed nation. It is heartbreaking, it is sickening, and it continues because we do nothing.
I have been an educator for six years, first as a teacher and now as a school counselor. In the wake of Sandy Hook in 2012, I remember shepherding my sixth grade class into the corner of my classroom during the newly revamped Active Shooter drill, struggling to help my students take the practice seriously while simultaneously trying to protect their innocence. Some giggled, others trembled as our administrators came through the hallways and rattled classroom door handles to check the locks.
Now, as a part of the school safety team, I walk the hallways during active shooter drills, clearing the bathrooms of students, checking door handles, writing down the classroom numbers that have insufficient window shades or have students visible. Yearly, our school counseling team reviews our roles in the aftermath of a shooting tragedy, determining who will release children to their parents’ custody, who will be tasked with informing those unlucky parents that their children went to school and died in a barrage of semiautomatic fire.
We have chosen to live like this. We have chosen to let our children die like this.
We have chosen to create and uphold a world where we traumatize our children in their schools to protect an increasingly distorted and disturbed interpretation of the Second Amendment.
We have chosen to deny funding to the CDC for any studies that explore gun safety, gun-related deaths, and the effects of firearm laws — effectively gagging a generation of researchers and hollowing any policy change efforts.
We have chosen to view the right of Americans to own assault weapons — weapons of war specifically designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible — as more important than the right of a child to live, to thrive, to learn in a safe environment.
We have chosen to see universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, magazine limits, and oversight of online gun sales as an unconstitutional infringement on our rights.
After Sandy Hook, I had hope that common sense gun control laws would be enacted. Surely, the violent death of first and second graders and their teachers would move our Congress. I was wrong. While bereaved Sandy Hook parents addressed our legislators, clutching framed photos of their murdered children, Congress failed to pass a single measure. What does this prove? That our children mean so little to us, America. They cannot vote, they cannot send representatives owned by the gun lobby out of office, so their lives do not matter. They are dispensable. They must die — huddled under classroom desks, hiding in janitor’s closets, fleeing for their lives — because our greed, our obsession with violence, our toxic masculinity, our collective apathy is more important to us.
And so we shall continue in this cycle of insanity, this sickness, because we have made our choice. This week, my school will practice yet another active shooter drill. Dutifully, we will scan the halls, slam shut our locked classroom doors, usher our students behind the flimsy protection of desks and cabinets, comfort trembling students, shush them, remind them not to text, to have their phones on silent, for what if this was not a drill?
We do not have to live like this, America. Shame on us for letting it be so.
Laura Williams is a school counselor in Montgomery County Public Schools; her email is email@example.com.