There’s no denying that the number of mass shootings in the U.S. is on the rise. Two of the five most deadly shootings have happened in the last 35 days alone.
Just think about that for a second.
Whatever you personally believe the reason is for the increase, I think we can all agree on this: It feels like nowhere we go is truly safe. We’ve now seen shootings at nightclubs, concerts, churches, and schools. And as a result of what feels like a constantly growing death toll due to gun violence, some schools are taking matters into their own hands.
According to CNN, the Florida Christian School in Miami is now selling bulletproof panels for kid’s backpacks. On the school’s website, administrators list the “ballistic panels,” which cost a $120 each, next to other common items for sale, like school T-shirts and winter gear.
To date, the school hasn’t had a shooting event, or even a scare, but the administration still feels the precaution is a good one. George Gulla, the Dean of Students and Head of Security, told CNN that the purpose of the panels is to provide kids with an added layer or protection in the event there’s an active shooter — and the school is making sure teachers know how to use them.
Still, the news itself is a sobering reminder of how bad gun violence has truly become. Because while bulletproofing our kids’ backpacks seems awfully grim on its own, the sad truth of it is, there may very well be a time when they need to use them. It’s a frightening reality for sure; but it’s a reality we appear to be living in.
Having to explain to a child of any age why you’re making such a purchase can’t possibly be an easy one. And it begs other questions, too: Like how might their school experience and level of anxiety change after being sent to class wearing a backpack of armor? And how can we expect students to focus, learn, and thrive in school when they’re absorbing the news, just as we all are, and beginning to understand that a mass shooting is not an uncommon occurrence?
When thinking about children who are very young and may already have some separation anxiety about leaving their parents, it also seems that this reality would make that separation all the more challenging. Parents who choose to buy these panels for their kids are trying their best to keep them safe. But they’re also making a choice to explain to their kids that their school, like any school, is not safe. And that’s not an easy conversation to have. It’s not one that any parent should have to have.
But here we are.
I’ll be honest, as a parent, I’m not sure what I would do if my kid’s school began offering bulletproof apparel. Part of me thinks I would go ahead and buy it. The other part just wonders how in the world I’d explain to my kids that they may not be safe in the place I’m choosing to send them every day. But while we all want to think our kids are safe when we wave goodbye at the bus stop — and we hope and pray with everything inside us that they are — we know it’s not completely true. And I’m just not sure I want to let my kids in on that secret just yet.
Of course, I want them to be prepared for the world that awaits them. Staying alive certainly trumps the added anxiety it may give them about going to school. But I truly hate that as a nation, this is where we are. Bulletproof backpacks and lockdown drills. It doesn’t seem real. Still, I’m guessing any parent who’s suffered the utter heartbreak of losing their child to gun violence would say they’d go back in time and send their kid off with a bulletproof anything if it had even the slightest chance of keeping them safe.
But the whole concept of sending kids to school with bulletproof gear, makes me uncomfortable for another reason, too: It feels like we’re giving up on trying to solve the problem at hand. It’s as though we believe we’re completely powerless to stop mass shootings as a whole, so we better armor up. And it makes me wonder what other profits might be made off our collective parental fear.
While we can never keep our children 100 percent safe, we shouldn’t have to fear for their lives while they’re at school. We shouldn’t go to sleep at night envisioning what might happen if a shooter walked into their classroom. And we shouldn’t have to buy bulletproof backpacks, either.
We need to come together and figure out how to create real change. We need to go to whatever means necessary to fix this problem — which, it’s become increasingly clear, is largely an American one.
The time for prevention is now. Though if you ask anyone who has ever lost a loved one by gun violence, they’ll tell you it’s actually long overdue.