The School Shooting Generation
By CIT McGovern
I saw a post on instagram today where a mom spoke about putting bulletproof shields into the backpacks of her children. She was angry, and frustrated; she felt like she was doing anything she could and it wasn’t enough to keep her kids safe.
I felt the expected wave of anger and frustration and perhaps less expected, guilt. These were not the emotions of a parent stuck in an unimaginable situation of trying to protect their child. I am not a parent. I graduated high school in 2019.
I am on the upper end of Gen Z. By many things people have tried to define our generation: by smartphones and social media, by covid, and by political tensions. Those things do shape our generation, but some of the oldest of us don’t feel we grew up with the same relation to those factors as those only five years younger. But what defines all of us in the US, all of our psychology as a generation, is the fear of gunfire in the halls. Columbine happened shortly before we were born. We knew through our entire lives this was a possibility. We heard teachers whispering in the halls around the country, having no idea what, if anything, they were supposed to say to their own students after classrooms of second graders died in Sandy Hook. We practiced the switch from Code Red drills where we hid like sitting ducks under desks to ALICE training, where we were taught to build barricades, to run, and to fight for survival. We knew this training was more effective under the premise that it saved more children, sacrificing whichever few were fighting up front, or running in the rear. It wasn’t about saving everyone.
When the Parkland shooting happened, we were in high school. It could have been any school, it could have been our school. It was not my school. Despite a few scares, and a plethora of threats made entirely out the ass of whatever dumb kid wanted classes canceled, it was never my school. It could have been my school.
We felt so powerless. We all wondered: When will it be here? Will I know the shooter? Will I know the victims? Will I live or die? Will I be a hero? Do you finish out the football season if someone on the team dies? What will we lose because it will be considered unsafe? Will anyone really care?
Then, the students from Parkland, they started screaming. They led a movement. They spoke up and faced down a world that said they weren’t old enough to vote but they were old enough to be sacrifices to a culture where guns were more protected than kids. We followed them into the streets. We felt like maybe, finally, we had a voice. Maybe, finally, we were screaming loudly enough to be heard over the gunfire. Maybe things would change. We would not let it be our school next. We would not let it be any school next. We would not let it reach our younger siblings, our nieces, our nephews, the kids we coached and babysat. They would not see the carnage.
And nothing changed.
We continued to have more school shootings every year.
Children continued dying.
We had been screaming in vain.
We fought like hell.
I lived to graduate.
I went to college, adopted a cat, eventually stopped jumping every time there was noise in the hallways. Universities aren’t spared, but they are so vast it’s not the same. We aren’t fish in a barrel.
And I heard the news. Again. Again. Again.
And I felt guilty. Maybe it is survivor’s guilt. It never was my school though. I never knew the victims. But I did live to graduate. Maybe it is guilt we did not fix the world. That we failed. This is an absurd reason to feel guilt. We were children fighting like hell to be able to go to school safely. We weren’t the ones responsible. We should never have had to be fighting. We didn’t break this world. But we couldn’t fix it. And now parents send their children to school with bulletproof backpacks, and those children are taught to fight for their lives. Maybe it is guilt because if we are no longer the children, then we are part of the society that excuses their deaths as an acceptable price to pay to defend people’s ‘right’ to carry assault weapons without proper background checks. It’s a shameful society to be a part of. We are still voting for gun reform. We are still fighting. I don’t know if we’re screaming anymore. Sometimes, we breathe a sigh of relief before the grief and the anger kick in, because we made it out.
Thank you for your participation in the American Education System. We hope you have learned your lesson in futility. Here is your diploma of (dis)honorable discharge.