The Apathy of the American School Shooting

Today's high school students have undergone active shooter drills since elementary school. Meanwhile, politicians continue to sleep at night.

The Apathy of the American School Shooting
Image:JEFF KOWALSKY (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old student opened fire at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit, killing four students and injuring seven and a teacher. The suspect was taken into custody after reportedly shooting 15 to 20 shots with a semiautomatic handgun his father purchased only four days prior. He has since been charged as an adult and hit with a slew of murder, assault, and terrorism charges.

School shootings are so commonplace and even expected in this country now that younger Millennials and Zoomers have been subjected to active shooter drills for years; Oxford High School had a drill just last month. CNN spoke with students who recalled arming themselves with scissors and calculators in case the suspect entered their classrooms. They worked together to turn off the lights, bolt the doors shut, and turn their desks into a barricade.

That preparedness shined through in a bleak yet harrowing display as footage from Oxford High School students during the shooting made its way onto social media. The most circulated video was taken by a student inside a sign language classroom.

From USA Today:

“Sheriff’s office. It’s safe to come out,” a voice from outside the classroom says.
Inside, a man replies: “We’re not willing to take that risk right now.”
The person outside is insistent.
“It’s OK,” the voice says. “Open the door. It’s all right, bro.”
When students hear the person outside use the word “bro,” pandemonium erupts. They quickly come to the conclusion that it’s the shooter because a sheriff’s deputy would be unlikely to use the word “bro.”
“He said bro,” a teenage boy says, standing up amid the chaos. “Red flag.”
Students rush to a window, open it and begin to run into an outdoor courtyard.

The students’ preparedness is as impressive as it is agonizing, but the tactics have been forced upon them due to decades of political negligence.

The Oxford High shooting is the 28th school shooting of this year, and the deadliest of 2021. Twenty of these shootings have occurred since August 1, but this is arguably the first that has been a national news story for a full day—and even then, its place in the mainstream news cycle is competing against a slew of other news stories: the Supreme Court’s continued decimation of abortion access, inflation woes, and omicron, the new covid-19 variant. Left unsaid—too morbid to admit—is the fact that the death toll of the Oxford High shooting isn’t considered shocking enough anymore in a land as riddled with routine gun violence as America.

Remembered, sometimes, are the death tolls that reach 10 or more; forgotten are the ones that result in fewer lost lives. They blend in with the other news stories Americans have grown desensitized to: A murder here, three killed in a shooting there, and now it’s time for sports. And when the deadliest and most shocking school shootings—Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland—are met with inaction from Congress, the collective hopelessness for an end to this uniquely American scourge only solidifies. The pattern is predictable: School shooting occurs, the president makes a statement, Senators do the “thoughts and prayers” song and dance on Twitter, there are rumblings about passing gun control measures, Democrats attempt to pass some legislation, Republicans reject it, and Democrats grumble about it until another issue becomes a priority. Wash, rinse, repeat.

These harrowing tales of teens squaring off against mass shooters are coupled with the ghoulish realization that politicians, namely those on the right, are content with this not-so-new normal. At the very least, they don’t take it seriously—these are the people who suggested that the best way to combat a school shooter is to have every teacher in America locked and loaded. The love affair between Americans and their guns will take precedence over young people’s lives every time, and young people know it. All they can do is hope they don’t find themselves crouching behind a door, listening for footsteps.

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