The gun crisis in America is so severe that people would actually have a child elsewhere with solid gun regulations, just not here.TW: this article contains descriptions of murder and gun violence. On October 28, 2000, I was with a dear friend when we were held at gunpoint during a robbery. The assailant shot my friend point blank in the head, and she died in my arms. My life jumped off the rails as I went down a dark path, battling post-traumatic stress disorder that haunts me to this day. Every time there is news of a new bout of gun violence I am newly traumatized and remember that horrifying day like it was yesterday, not almost 18 years ago. And since there is a shooting virtually every day now, I am struggling daily to cope with the impact that gun violence has wrought upon my life, my friend’s family, and everyone who loves us. In the wake of the Parkland shooting that took place just 13 miles from my home (and during which the daughter of my husband’s colleague was murdered), my husband and I were never more certain about our choice to not have children. Being a gun crime survivor, the trauma of surviving that event has never fully left me and one of the biggest side-effects was my decision to not have children because of America’s absurd obsession with guns. I wondered if there were others out there who had similarly decided the gun threat in this country was too big a risk when it came to having their own children. It wasn’t hard to find a group of people who feel the same. Donya Johnson is a flight attendant based out of Minnesota, and a lifelong childfree-by-choicer, who tells me, “Since gun violence has become the norm in public schools, it further validates my decision not to have children. Schools should be a safe-haven to learn and explore life, not a place to meet your maker.” Wisconsin-based journalist Jennifer Billock made her decision to not have children far more recently, in just the past year. “I wanted kids,” Jennifer says. “But I don't think I can happily bring a child into this world when guns are such a major issue… I'm a naturally anxious person, and the idea that I'd have to worry about sending my kid to school because they may or may not get shot is not something I think I could handle. I already have mini panic attacks when I'm going to the movies.”
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The conversation regarding school safety cannot start and stop with guns and shootings.Since 2018 began, at least 8 school shootings have occurred in the US involving injury or death. In the days since the most recent widely publicized shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, several conversations have erupted regarding U.S. school safety. Similar to other shootings, gun control has re-emerged in the mainstream discourse. As well, there are discussions regarding arming teachers and increasing militarization of U.S. public schools. For example, in Broward County, Florida where the shooting took place, the police have reportedly stated that sheriff’s deputies will carry rifles on school grounds going forward. But amidst the growing discourse surrounding violence and guns, one particular discussion about school safety has been erased: that US students have been under threat and are under threat everyday. Understandably it is a worrisome and frightening and grave situation when a school shooting occurs, but “school safety” is more than just about school shootings. And this hyperfocus on the state of US schools only when widely publicized events happen, obscures that schools have been unsafe and that teachers and students are constantly threatened and in dangerous situations. In particular, the conversation on increasing police presence in schools or further incorporating metal detectors and other scanners or arming teachers, ignores that many schools are already militarized and policed in this way. Many schools already have policies in place for metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs, especially among schools with a greater concentration poor students and students of color. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that up to 24% of U.S. schools have random drug-sniffs by dogs and almost 9% of high schools have random metal detector scans.
Our Detroit school is a fortress. Every door is locked from the outside and equipped with sensors. Leave it open too long and the alarm screeches through the hallway like a cat in heat.When school shootings occur, as a school counselor, I spring into action. I prepare myself to have students come to my office for courageous conversations about gun violence. My job is to attempt to restore their confidence and normalcy; get their head back in the academic game. In Detroit, where I work, no one ever comes to me after a shooting — not even a parent phone call to ask, “what is your plan if someone shoots up the school?” Nothing. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida I decided to go to them. In the lunch room, I sat with my students and asked: “Did you hear about what happened in Florida.” They had. “Are you concerned about something like that happening here?” Their answer is a confident unanimous, “No.” My kids cavalierly mention, “Black people don’t go around shooting up places, all reckless, white people do that.” I reminded my students of The Charleston Massacre when Dylann Roof, a white supremacist terrorist killed nine black people in their church. So even if black people do not typically commit mass killings on average, we can be victims of them. “Oh, yeah, that was crazy, Mrs. Mohammed,” another student says, “but that was a church. Ain’t nobody getting up in here with no nonsense!” High School students aren’t confident about much, but my ad hoc focus group of black, Latinx, and Arab-American students are very confident about their safety in our school building on the Detroit’s west side. Every morning students arrive an hour to thirty minutes in their uniform before the first bell to wait in a line to pass through a metal detector, have their backpacks searched, and get patted down by security guards. It is just not students — every parent, guest, even the postman walks through those metal detectors, gets their photo taken, and is greeted by a security guard who escorts them to the main office, right by our deputized police officer’s desk. Our Detroit school is a fortress. Every door is locked from the outside and equipped with sensors. Leave it open too long and the alarm screeches through the hallway like a cat in heat. All the windows have bars, and thick glass with wire mesh running through it. Shooting it out would be a waste. Only one of the metal six front doors can be opened without a pass-card or a key. And none of the side doors are ever unlocked. There are cameras at every intersection, and patrolling security guards. The main throughway doors have magnets which can be tripped by an alarm and instantly shut and lock, quarantine whatever part of the building you need it to. If there were a shooter, he would not be able to freely roam the building if that particular alarm was tripped. This isn’t The White House, this is inner city schooling.