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Taking a Fatal Bullet to Protect Your Child in School

A school psychologist’s outrage.

Key points

  • Although not in the military or law enforcement, beleaguered schoolteachers and professionals are now obliged to die in the line of duty.
  • Gun rights advocacy statements do not explain away the problem with guns.
  • Many things can be done that do not take away everyone’s guns but increase public safety.

During the national mental health crisis in youth, as a physician and a child psychologist, we are incredibly proud of our daughter who is a school psychologist working on the front lines fighting for children’s mental health in schools.

Like most school mental health professionals today, she works under difficult, understaffed conditions, battling in the trenches against childhood traumas that can result in mental illness. As school shootings go unchecked, we watch painfully as schools evolve into an increasingly likely literal war zone with bullets, blood, and death causing fresh trauma to children and their families everywhere. Our hearts ache for the families who lost loved ones in Uvalde and the countless others who still mourn the loss of children due to gun violence, and we know our thoughts are prayers are not enough.

Our school psychologist daughter's outrage

Stephen VanHorn/Shutterstock
Source: Stephen VanHorn/Shutterstock

We want to share what our daughter wrote the morning after the horrific Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting.

“As I drove into work today, I passed by parents as they were pulling out of the school parking lot. I imagine most of these parents thought twice about dropping their children off at school this morning, and some may have even kept their children at home. They likely said an extra ‘I love you.’ They likely hugged their children a little longer than usual, but not too long, using a purposeful, upbeat tone when wishing them a good day, carefully masking emotions that may worry their kids.

"As they pulled away, I imagine they looked in their rearview mirrors as their children walked into the front doors, trying to keep their minds from running towards the worst-case scenario. One that has happened time and time again.

"In what other first-world country do parents have to worry that dropping their child off at school, telling them they love them, and wishing them a good day, might be the last time they get to do that?

"As a school psychologist, I have worked in many elementary schools. I have been there during lockdown drills with students as young as preschool-age. When I was a practicum student, I was in a preschool classroom when we had an unscheduled lockdown drill. As we all huddled in the classroom bathroom, and the teacher dimmed the lights, you could hear a pin drop.

"These preschoolers knew exactly why this was happening, and how important it was to stay quiet. A little girl next to me, who didn't know me, asked in a whisper to sit on my lap. She then whispered in my ear, ‘Is this for when a shooter comes?’ This moment will stick in my mind for the rest of my life.

"In what other first-world country is this a valid thought and worry for a 5-year-old in their preschool classroom?

"I’ve seen many similar posts by teachers and school staff, and I wanted to share how very real it is for me as well. Every day that I enter my elementary and middle school buildings, I subconsciously consider what I would do if there was a school shooting that day. And every time, I have made a conscious decision that I would do everything in my power to protect the kids around me. While I can’t be certain that I wouldn’t run away, I truly believe that if given the choice, I would choose to put myself in harm’s way if it meant saving just one of your children.

"While schoolteachers and professionals never signed up for it, in the United States it has become an unwritten obligation to take a fatal bullet to protect our students, in a school, at our place of work.

"Although I do not have children yet, if I did, I might understand the urge to flee and protect myself for my own children’s sake in an active shooting situation. Yet I still believe my choice will be the same when I do have children—because I believe that my future children’s teachers would do the same if put in that position.

"In what other first-world country do school professionals have to make this dark, hidden promise to themselves when they enter their school buildings every single day?

"To echo a sentiment that I have heard throughout the day, we live in a country that has done next to nothing nationally to prevent America’s children from being repeatedly gunned down by boys and men with powerful weapons. In what reality does this make any sense?

"I will never, ever, understand how people can continue to promote the right to own assault rifles, seemingly worshiping these weapons of war designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible and can outgun law enforcement, over the rights of innocent children.

"As I walk into school, I’m overwhelmed by the thought that this is just an ordinary day in America, a country that cares more about guns than children. This is our reality as school professionals who signed up to help children, not to take bullets for them. It sickens me. I’m fed up.”

Our daughter’s sentiments are common in the education field and among Americans who cannot understand why common-sense regulations govern the use of things like cars, alcohol, narcotics, and explosives for public safety, yet little is done to regulate weapons that people use to commit mass murder.

Source: Blacqbook/iStockPhoto

The ways people try to convince others that guns are not the problem

There are many ways people try to convince others that guns are not the problem. They may say things like, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or “Guns are just a tool,” or “Mental illness is the problem, not guns,” or “It’s the act of an evil, deranged person, not a gun.”

Why these gun advocacy statements do not explain away the problem with guns

We believe these statements do not explain away the problem with guns for many reasons.

  1. People need a weapon to kill people and guns are the most common tools. People could not commit mass murder with guns if they did not have guns.
  2. Although there are often warning signs, we cannot always tell who is evil or deranged, or who will find themselves in crisis and want to use semiautomatic firearms and high rounds of ammunition to do what they are made to do as civilian versions of military weapons—mass assault—but we can tell that wide access helps them get what they need. And even when people do know about and report people who may be dangerous, taking weapons away from them after finding out is difficult and dangerous.
  3. Although people with diagnosed mental illnesses are more likely to be victims and not perpetrators of violence, mental illness crises are escalating, especially in young people, including at age 18, the age of the Uvalde, Texas shooter. But people with a mental health crisis who want to commit mass murder cannot do so without the means to do it—guns are the commonly used means available to them because of the people who advocate for low gun regulation. One cannot kill others with mental illness alone—it takes weapons to do that. So mental health crises aren’t the sole problem—the guns people in crisis can easily get are the lethal part of the problem.
  4. Increasing numbers of young people are suicidal unbeknownst to those around them and research has shown that most mass shooters are suicidal, knowing this will be their last act. But again, we often do not know who is suicidal and not only wants to take their own life (by shooting themselves, law enforcement action, or lifetime incarceration) and as many other lives as they can.

Despite these facts, the young Uvalde shooter, whose age preceded complete brain development and decision making, was able to legally purchase the tools he needed to carry out mass murder: two semiautomatic assault weapons and 375 rounds of ammunition, similar to what soldiers go into battle with.

We wonder what other uses for these weapons by a civilian could be more valuable than the safety of our children and teachers.

The role of gun advocacy

For these reasons stated above, we believe that supporting public access to these weapons and high rounds of ammunition that can even outgun law enforcement ensures that today’s main tools for mass murder are available to the next men and teenagers who find themselves in crisis and want to kill people including young children in school. Advocating for the right to own semiautomatic weapons will help the next murderers take as many lives as they can rather than make us safer.

Choices we can make instead

Instead, we can do many things that do not take away everyone’s guns but increases public safety—it is America’s choice. One common-sense idea is this: not letting 18-year-olds purchase assault weapons and large amounts of ammo when their brains cannot be fully developed yet to make good decisions, when it can be a traumatic transition time in life, and when they can't even legally drink alcohol or rent a car.

We can choose to value human life over guns. And we can choose to make our children safer and remove the obligation of our already beleaguered schoolteachers and professionals to die in the line of duty. Our children and those we love in schools are counting on us to act.