It’s happened again. And again. And again and again and again. On Monday, February 13, 2023, gunshots erupted at Michigan State University. Three dead, five injured. “For a generation of young Americans, mass shootings at schools or colleges once considered sanctuaries for learning have become so painfully routine that some of them have lived through more than one by their early 20s. People a few years older grew up with active shooter drills. Their younger counterparts have become repeat survivors of traumatic violence.” (nytimes.com). Michigan State students include survivors of the Sandy Hook and Oxford High shootings.

We know our youth are struggling. Mental health issues, many of which predate the pandemic, were exacerbated by it. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control warns “of an accelerating mental health crisis among adolescents, with more than 4 in 10 teens reporting that they feel ‘persistently sad or hopeless,’ and 1 in 5 saying they have contemplated suicide, according to the results of a survey published last year [washingtonpost.com].

The threat of school shootings and the shooter drills compound these anxieties. More than 100,000 American children attended a school at which a shooting took place in 2018 and 2019 alone (Cabral et al., 2021), and researchers are finding “evidence suggesting a deterioration in shooting-exposed children’s mental health” [stanford.edu]. These experiences have direct, deleterious consequences.

High school students exposed to a shooting at their school were:

  • 3.7 percent at the mean less likely to graduate from high school
  • 9.5 percent less likely to enroll in any college
  • 17.2 percent less likely to enroll in a four-year college
  • 15.3 percent less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree by age 26
  •  6.3 percent less likely to be employed
  • had $2,779.84 (13.5 percent) lower average annual earnings between the ages of 24 and 26 suggesting a reduction of $115,550 (in 2018 dollars) in the present discounted value of lifetime earnings per shooting-exposed student. With approximately 50,000 children per year affected in recent years, the aggregate cost may be $5.8 billion per year in terms of lost lifetime earnings among survivors. [Ibid.].

The statistics should frighten us:

  1. Each day 12 children die from gun violence in America. Another 32 are shot and injured.1
  2. Guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens. 1 out of 10 gun deaths are age 19 or younger.2 
  3. In fact, firearm deaths occur at a rate more than 5 times higher than drownings.3
  4. Since Columbine in 1999, more than 338,000 students in the U.S. have experienced gun violence at school.4 
  5. There were more school shootings in 2022 [46] than in any year since Columbine.
  6. In 2022, 34 students and adults died [sandyhookpromise.org].

It’s no wonder that our students are anxious. “Perhaps the most disturbing effects of school shootings are the feeling of on-going danger that permeates schools where they have occurred. The school’s climate and sense of community are profoundly damaged” [https://violence.chop.edu].

In a country with more guns than people (about 120 guns for every 100 Americans) [cnn.com], in a country where mass shootings and violence also occur outside school walls, our kids cannot feel safe. As of February 14, 2023,  there have been 366 school shootings since Columbine [washingtonpost.com]. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security reports that in 2021 alone, there were 240 incidents in which a gun was either brandished or used in a school.

Although nearly 75% of all US school shootings in 2018 and 2019 had no fatalities, they still left students traumatized [pbs.com].

And the data excludes hundreds of incidents every year that don’t technically qualify but that still terrify and traumatize tens of thousands of children: shootings at after-school sporting events, for example, or gunshots fired just off campus. “In a country where gun violence is now the leading cause of death for kids and teens, millions of children must walk through metal detectors or run through active-shooter drills meant to prepare them for the threat of mass murder” [washingtonpost.com3].

 Steven Schlozman, a Dartmouth associate professor of psychiatry, analyzed school shootings over the last five years: “We have very good data that children in proximity to frightening circumstances, such as those that trigger school lockdowns, are at risk for lasting symptoms. These include everything from worsening academic and social progression to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, post-traumatic symptomatology, and substance abuse” [dartmouth.edu]

Our youth deserve better, yet we continue to fail them by allowing politics to prevent change.

We must be more proactive in identifying and responding to potential shooters. Just look at Richneck Elementary School in New Jersey, where teachers warned administrators that a six-year-old boy was disturbed and making threats. Nothing was done until he shot his teacher with a handgun [washingtonpost.com2].

Everytown Research and Policy provides a clear blueprint for making schools and communities safer:

  1. “Enact and Enforce Secure Firearm Storage Laws
  2. Pass Extreme Risk Laws
  3. Raise the Age to Purchase Semi-automatic Firearms
  4. Require Background Checks on All Gun Sales
  5. Foster a Safe and Trusting School Climate
  6. Build a Culture of Secure Gun Storage 
  7. Create Evidence-Based Crisis Assessment/Prevention Programs in Schools
  8. Implement Expert-Endorsed School Security Upgrades: Entry Control and Locks
  9. Initiate Trauma-Informed Emergency Planning
  10. Avoid Practices That Can Cause Harm and Traumatize Students” [everytownresearch.org]

So it’s up to us. We have a road map, and we need to fight for it. Write your congresspeople and push for change. It’s long overdue.


More than 311, 000… that’s how many students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High massacre in 1999. “While school shootings remain rare, there were more in 2021 — 42 — than in any year since at least 1999. So far this year, there have been at least 24 acts of gun violence on K-12 campuses during the school day” [washpost.com].

So we start the sad dance all over again. Politicians who claim to be pro-life [who would take away a woman’s right to choose how to deal with her pregnancy] spout the same sanctimonious spiel to all who will listen even as they fight gun control legislation and take millions from the NRA. And nothing changes… We are growing numb as well as impotent.

David Frum points out: “Every other democracy makes some considerable effort to keep guns away from dangerous people, and dangerous people away from guns. For many years—and especially since the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a decade ago—the United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands: 120 guns per 100 people in this country” [atlantic.com]. He reminds us that the most numerous gun sales in our country’s history occurred during the pandemic, “almost 20 million guns sold in 2020; another 18.5 million sold in 2021” followed by a surge of gun violence [Ibid.]. We are the “only country with more civilian-owned firearms than people “ [forbes.com].

The conservative podcaster Allie Beth Stuckey points out that the one common factor in these school shootings is that they are all committed by young males. She argues that we “are doing absolutely everything wrong when it comes to promoting healthy masculinity, purpose, & goodness for these boys and men” [Ibid.]. The gunman who killed 19 students and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 had dropped out of school after being bullied for a speech impediment. He had a difficult home life and unsatisfying job, and his behavior and social media posts offered warning signs. Yet no one pursued those signs, and he shot his grandmother in the face before walking into a school, wearing body armor, and randomly shooting victims. We may not understand, but we must act.  

We could know more and better understand situations like these if it weren’t for the 1996 Dickey Amendment that forbade the CDC from using its funding to study gun violence. In 2019 the law was clarified, and research resumed the following year, but now we’re running to catch up [washpost.com 2].

And I fear, as do so many, that once again nothing will be done. Brian Broome argues that nothing will change, that this will be yet another tragedy that will prompt empty speeches and vigils but no action on gun control. “The gun is a holy relic in America. A sacred talisman. More important than life itself [washpost.com3]. We live in a country that loves its guns more than its children. Isn’t that backwards?

Some in the Senate have tried. After 32 people died and many more were injured in the August 2019 El Paso and Dayton shootings, Senator Chris Murphy and others were negotiating with then Attorney General Bill Barr when the Trump/Zelensky call derailed that effort [washpost.com4]. Even the Manchin-Toomey bill, so diluted to appease the NRA that some called it “toothless” couldn’t pass the 60-vote threshold [Ibid.]. Manchin tried again after the May 2022 massacre at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store. Again, no legislation passed.

Those who argue for the sanctity of the Second Amendment to the Constitution would distort its meaning and context. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That right did not include private ownership of cannons, and assault rifles didn’t even exist. We require training and licenses to drive a car but not to own a gun.

Our elected officials are failing our nation. “Nearly 60% of registered voters think it’s at least somewhat important for lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws, a new Morning Consult/Politico poll found after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York—even before another shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday further ramped up calls for Congress to pass gun control legislation” [forbes.com]. Yet once again, nothing changes.

What can we do? Each of us must find out the position of our elected officials on gun controls. Then we need to work to vote for candidates who will support red flags and background checks and mental health efforts. We must vote out the hypocrites who offer sympathy as they block change. Congress and Governors and the President haven’t done it. It’s up to all of us.

Keeping Students Safe

Another school shooting… Yesterday one student was killed and eight injured by gunfire at a Denver-area charter school. We barely react any more. We’re too accepting of this “new normal.”

Education Week reassures us: “With two large-scale school shootings in 2018—17 killed in Parkland, Fla., and 10 killed in Santa Fe, Texas—public fears about school safety and gun violence are high. But the data show that, on the whole, schools are one of the safest places for children.”[1] Is that supposed to be comforting? Schools should be safe places. We should be doing more to keep all schools safe. But we don’t know how.

Just last week Florida’s House of Representatives passed a controversial bill that would permit classroom teachers to carry guns in schools, and the Governor is expected to sign it. How can this be the answer? Even if I had been thoroughly trained to use a gun, my fear of guns and the reality that many of my high school students could have overpowered me and taken it away suggests that teachers toting guns might only add to the problem. We are called to the profession for our love of learning and desire to empower students to experience that. How many teachers are drawn to policing? What would be the impact of gun access on their relationship with students?

Wouldn’t we be better served addressing key issues?

  • What drives shooters in the first place and what we might do about that?
  • What can we do about access to guns by individuals who show signs of being unstable?
  • How can we better identify those individuals?
  • Why would any civilian need bump stocks and semi-automatic rifles? Can we outlaw those?

I had high hopes that the courageous students of Parkland would drive a serious discussion that led to meaningful problem-solving here. I was naïve. But we need to look at the root causes of school shootings and address them directly, instead of settling for dangerous “band-aids” like arming teachers, band-aids that themselves might just lead to more wounds. Our students deserve that. So do our teachers. The time is now.

[1] http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/District_Dossier/2019/05/eight_students_injured_in_denver_school_shooting.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2-rm&M=58826339&U=1603651&UUID=a2c5403f90bf9a526413b15a7b86a2e2