For the ‘lockdown generation’, school shootings are their reality

A day after the Texas school massacre, Ohio teacher Renee Coley thought her sixth graders would need time to process, so she opened the class with a video about the news and started a discussion. Some students said they were sad. Some were appalled that the 19 children killed were so young.

After a few minutes, however, the conversation broke off. The students were ready to continue their day. For Coley, it was a grim reminder that the students had seen it all before, had grown accustomed to the ever-present threat of guns in school.

“They don’t have questions because these kids have been growing up all their lives and that’s been the reality for them,” said Coley, who teaches in Reynoldsburg, outside of Columbus. “They dealt with this so many times. … It’s just another hot day for them.”

The interaction highlights how students across America have grown desensitized to the violence that has unfolded throughout their lives in schools and communities — and with much greater frequency since the pandemic. .

The bloodbath at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday marked the deadliest school shooting in the United States since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Police say the shooter, an 18-year-old man, was killed by law enforcement at the school. Two teachers were also killed.

While mass shootings of this scale are rare, Naval Postgraduate School researchers have recorded 504 instances of gun violence in elementary, middle and high schools since the start of 2020 — a number that eclipses the previous eight years combined.

The database includes a range of cases, including students brandishing guns or opening fire in classrooms, bathrooms, cafeterias or gymnasiums. It counts students who have used firearms to commit suicide at school. And it also tracks violence that doesn’t involve students, including nighttime shootings near school grounds.

An alarming number have involved teens who have turned to violence to resolve conflicts in the moment, said David Riedman, a criminologist who co-founded the database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

“The majority of these incidents are conflict escalations,” Riedman said. “There are more teenagers with concealed handguns at school fighting and shooting people. And it’s not something we saw before the pandemic. »

Violence and other trauma have become common enough for schoolchildren that Chicago Public Schools has developed a 15-page guide, “The Day After,” to help teachers and staff coach students in dealing with painful events.

The proliferation of guns in homes, coupled with an overburdened mental health system that has left many students without the help they need, has fueled the rise in gun violence at school, researchers say. .

In fact, violent incidents involving firearms have increased across America since the pandemic began — not just in schools.

“Gun violence is like a flood, and when your community is flooded, all of your buildings take on water,” said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.

Schools are still among the safest places for children, Cornell pointed out, with most killings taking place in homes, public streets or other locations. But he also thinks mass school shootings will continue unless America addresses its longstanding shortage of mental health workers in schools.

“Some children get help, but a small number come out traumatized and scarred, angry and wronged,” he said. For some of them, “at a time of crisis in their life, they will commit some type of violent act towards themselves or towards others”.

After every mass shooting at a school, Laurel Brooks, a high school graphics and game art teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, tries to guide students through conversations and illustrations that can help them express their thoughts. After the 2018 shootings in Parkland, Florida, which killed 14 students and three staff members, the students worked on a graphic essay that described itself as “the lockdown generation.” The theme resonated with the following classes.

“It’s scary that it’s consistent,” she said. “They grew up with it. … They are still children and they should not have to withstand this kind of trauma.

Los Angeles social studies teacher Nicolle Fefferman started her high school classes on Wednesday with questions about how people felt after the Uvalde massacre – in the wake of the supermarket killings in Buffalo and the church attack in Orange County, Calif., the third major shooting she’d dealt with in two weeks.

“What I was hearing was a lot of frustration from the students I’m teaching that this hasn’t been resolved. And a lot of anger because we seem to be the only country where these things are happening. And the students ask, “Why? ” she says.

In one of his classes, students started listing all the times they had to be confined. Then the students asked Fetterman what it was like when she was young. Her response stunned them, she said.

“They said, ‘You didn’t do lockdown exercises when you were growing up? “” They asked. “‘No, guys, that wasn’t part of my experience,'” she said.

“This is the generation that engaged in these drills like we used to do earthquake drills and fire drills,” Fetterman said.

Mass school shootings have remained a grim presence in America, but their numbers have remained relatively stable in recent years. Since 2012, a total of 73 students have been killed in school shootings with at least four victims shot and two victims killed, according to research by James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who studies mass shootings.

Last year, there was a school shooting of this magnitude, a high school ransack in Oxford, Michigan, that left four people dead. On Thursday, hundreds of Oxford High School students came out and formed a “U” on the football field to show their support for students and families in Uvalde, Texas. A school spokeswoman said it was part of a nationwide effort calling for changes to gun laws.

In 2020, with many school buildings closed as part of pandemic precautions, there were no school shootings of this magnitude.

“There really hasn’t been an increase in large-scale school shootings. When you look at the risks, they are extremely low,” he said. Fox described the increase in gun violence during the pandemic as an “aberration”, saying there is “no reason to think the numbers will continue to rise”.

Yet other experts fear that school violence will continue. They say students are more stressed than ever after two traumatic years and schools lack the resources to help them. They also point to factors such as the nation’s increasingly divided political and cultural climate.

“There are a lot of forces converging here that are creating a stew of anger, grievances and easy access to guns,” said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

“It’s incredibly alarming,” he added. “We must not think this is normal, we must not think this is acceptable and we must act to protect children. We have failed as a society if we don’t protect children so they can come home safely after school.


Associated Press reporter Kathleen Foody contributed from Chicago.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


The Associated Press’ reporting on issues of race and ethnicity is supported in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.