Normalizing School Shootings

by celia k. ‘20

The most recent school shooting in the U.S. occurred in Colorado a few weeks ago and sparked a nationwide debate about the normalization of school shootings. According to data collected by the US Naval Postgraduate School, last year there were 94 school shootings in the U.S.--the highest number since 1970, when they began collecting data, and 59% higher than the previous record high of 59 in 2006. The increased frequency of school shootings has brought a lot of attention to the issue. Additionally, recent school shootings have given rise to groups such as the March for Our Lives, an organization started by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after a school shooting there in February of last year, which killed 17 people. School shootings have contributed to calls for stricter gun control legislation and have made this issue especially important to teenagers, whom these shootings affect the most directly.

It has become a waking national nightmare, a recurring horror that we can’t explain or defend but that we are condemned to repeat. We know it will happen again. We seem helpless to stop it.
— Bettina Lanyi, the Director of National Partnerships at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

The increased frequency of school shootings has also caused some to argue that the shootings are becoming normalized, with each school shooting impacting the American public less. In an article published by Time magazine, Haley Sweetland Edwards wrote, “It has become a waking national nightmare, a recurring horror that we can’t explain or defend but that we are condemned to repeat. We know it will happen again. We seem helpless to stop it.” Bettina Lanyi, the Director of National Partnerships at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Quill, “This increased frequency normalizes school shootings to the extent that, horrifically, kids expect that in their school environment, where they show up to learn each day, someone may show up with a gun to shoot at them. There are organizations that are starting to study the effects on kids of ‘normalizing’ the expectation of a school shooting. Essentially, all kids in school today since Sandy Hook can be expected to be living with a siege mentality… their sense of safety and security has been impacted, possibly for a long time to come.”

Some Bryn Mawr students, like Sophie H. ’20, agree that school shootings are becoming normalized. Sophie said, “Now it feels like the shooting has to be truly violent or shocking to get attention and it really shouldn’t have to be that way. There have been 6 mass shootings in 2019 alone and I feel as though both social and mass media platforms haven’t really covered any of them. Maybe if people were more aware of the shootings happening they would do something to stop it, but I think because of how often they occur and how little people are notified about them, they don’t really get affected by them as much.” Perhaps part of the reason we feel unaffected by these shootings is because of how different Bryn Mawr is from the large, public high schools where school shootings typically occur. Dr. Riley, an Upper School history teacher and the chair of the History Department, reflected, “I live in an illusion that it would be highly unlikely for a shooting situation to happen at a girls independent school and that protects us from a ‘this could be us’ feeling. We still think school shootings are anomalies.” The priviledge that Dr. Riley alluded to acts almost like a bubble, protecting us from the fear that a school shooting could happen at our school. However, it is important to recognize that for many high school students who go to large public schools similar to those where school shootings have occured in the past, they have that ‘this could be us’ feeling every day. So perhaps the question of whether school shootings are becoming normalized depends on what your ‘normal’ is. In other words, it is easier for us to believe school shootings are anomalies because our high school experience allows us to distance ourselves from the fear many of our peers feel every day.

Paola S. ’91, a Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist, believes they are not becoming normalized at all: “I actually do not believe that shootings are becoming normalized, but believe that we are all traumatized on a certain level each time we learn of such horrific events. It is so painful to be in touch with these raw feelings that we subconsciously defend against them, and develop a kind of emotional numbing to block this pain.” This “emotional numbing,” while subconscious, can have negative consequences.While school shootings may not have become normalized by our society, can affect us individually. Statistics suggest that gun violence is not going to subside in the future and has the potential to get worse. This makes it important, now more than ever, to pay attention.