+
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
We are a small, independent media company on a mission to share the best of humanity with the world.
If you think the work we do matters, pre-ordering a copy of our first book would make a huge difference in helping us succeed.
GOOD PEOPLE Book
upworthy

school shootings

School supplies included bulletproof backpack inserts this year.

I stood in the back-to-school section at Target throwing my kindergartener's school supplies haphazardly in the red cart when suddenly I couldn't catch my breath. I found myself attempting to control a panic attack while deciding between RoseArt and Crayola crayons. (Crayola always wins, even though the price tag is bigger.)

My panic attack wasn't over the crayons, though that would've been easier to stomach. I was flooded with anxiety over having to send my innocent 5-year-old off to school in America. Being a dual-income middle-class family, there's no viable option for me not to send him into a classroom, so I stood in Target with the full weight of sending my youngest child off for an education and a lifetime of trauma.

In the few minutes it took me to understand why I was having trouble breathing, I decided this was the year I'd add bulletproof backpack inserts to the school supply list.


As I read reviews on the different brands of inserts, one company was having a back-to-school sale. "How absurd," I thought to myself. We live in a country where bulletproof inserts for backpacks are so sought after that ballistics companies can have back-to-school sales on them. Give that a moment to sink in.

My disgust over the absurdity of it all didn't stop me from recognizing a good sale, though. After texting my high school children to see if they also wanted an insert, I ordered three and had them expedited to my doorstep. It was an almost instantaneous relief, albeit short-lived.

A group of people protesting

Woman at a protest holds up a sign that reads, "ENOUGH."

Photo by Liam Edwards on Unsplash

My teens had questions, and they weren't completely comforted by the answers I could provide. They wanted to know the ballistic grade and if there was an insert that could withstand assault rifles. My middle son asked if I could buy an extra one so he could have one in the front panel of his backpack and one in the back to increase his protection against an AR-15. To be truthful, the highest grade insert was around $600 and if you multiply that by three it made it out of my price range.

Until I asked my older children about the insert, I had no idea they were calculating what items in their classroom would give them the best protection if a shooter came in. I've seen them walk through school tours like little soldiers trained for war, pointing out spaces that could be easily breached and classrooms that would make it difficult to hide.

My heart broke once more when my adult daughter informed me that she still has nightmares about active shooter drills four years after graduating. What are we doing in our country where traumatizing children from kindergarten up is the norm? How is it that buying a bulletproof insert for backpacks seems like the reasonable option? We don't live in a war-torn country, but preparing for school feels like it.

In one generation, schools went from being worried your bully might try to trip you in the hallway to being worried someone would come in and shoot everyone. I was in high school when Columbine happened and remember thinking that it was a sad isolated incident. It never crossed my mind that school shootings would become normal.

But until something's done about the frequency of school shootings, I'll buy whatever I can to ease my mind and give my kids the best chance of coming back home to me.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Education

Here are 4 ways you can effect meaningful change as we process yet another mass shooting

It's easy to feel helpless, but here's how to turn that helplessness into action.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Angry and frustrated? Get outside and make your feelings known.

Two mass shootings in less than two weeks. It sounds like some faraway land where citizens fight for their right to freedom. But it’s not some far off land, it’s here in our own backyard. America has a problem—it’s the only developed country in the world that has more mass shootings a year than there are days. We are 144 days into the year and there has already been more than 200 mass shootings, 27 of which were school shootings. Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, is the latest to join that growing list with 19 children and two teachers dying in an elementary school designated for second, third and fourth graders.

Parents and other adults who have lost children at the school are reeling from this unspeakable act of violence. And adults raising children in this country are joining those parents in their grief, but know that collective grief is not enough. People are feeling helpless and want to take action to combat those feelings. It gives our hands and minds something to focus on as our hearts heal.

Here are four things you can do if you’re feeling helpless about gun violence in America.


Connect with advocacy groups

Many gun safety advocacy groups have local chapters or you can connect with them online. Everytown for Gun Safety is the largest gun violence prevention organization in America. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has chapters in every state and a bunch of resources on their website. Giffords and Brady are two other nonprofits furnishing statistics, resources and ways to get involved. All of these organizations are there to help people have a voice in creating gun laws that make the most sense for the safety of American citizens. No one wants another mass shooting, and joining the fight with one of these organizations can put your anger and frustration to good use.

Run for office

Running for national office may be a privilege reserved for those who can afford to not work for a lengthy period of time leading up to the elections, but that's not so much the case with local elections. And a lot of change is enacted at local and state levels. You don’t have to run to become a member of Congress to elicit change. School boards, county commissioners and other local influential positions can be of great benefit to your community. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to run for an office, look for information on your state's secretary of state website. If you identify as a woman and are unsure of what office to run for, you should check out She Should Run. As well as having a starter kit, trainings and meetings, the organization also has a quiz to help you narrow down the office that would suit you best.

Photo by Rubén Rodriguez on Unsplash

Get involved in other areas of public service

If running for office isn’t your thing, research your local and state candidates and find the ones who support the causes that are important to you and who share your views on preventing gun violence. Your support to their campaign can be in the form of monetary donations, helping with phone banks, texting, canvassing or helping put up signs. Any and every form of support helps for candidates who don't have deep pockets or big donors.

Active participation in politics may be a bit too much for some people. But you can always write your member of Congress or state senator. If you’re computer savvy, you can even create a form letter and share it with others to make it easier for them to contact their representatives. You can also call your state representatives and leave them messages so they know your voice.

Peacefully protest

Something that will help you move from a place of feeling helpless and stuck is to protest. You can organize protests in your area or you can join protests that are already scheduled. You don’t have to be a member of an organization to show up. Grab a piece of poster board and some markers and go exercise your First Amendment right. You have the power to enact change. Every action has a ripple effect and if enough people are speaking up and stepping up, change is bound to happen.

We have to do what we can as adults because active shooter drills should not be part of learning to write your name. Calls from school should be because your child has a tummy ache, not because they’re not coming home. Teachers should only need to worry about correcting minor behaviors and teaching math, not how to teach their classroom to barricade a door. America, we have to do better, and the best way to change outcomes is by putting in the work.

Sandy Hook school shooting survivors are growing up and telling us what they've experienced.

This story originally appeared on 12.15.21


Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in your classroom in an idyllic small town, when you start hearing gunshots. Your teacher tries to sound calm, but you hear the fear in her voice as she tells you to go hide in your cubby. She says, "be quiet as a mouse," but the sobs of your classmates ring in your ears. In four minutes, you hear more than 150 gunshots.

You're in the first grade. You wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus and magic. You're excited about losing your front teeth. Your parents still prescreen PG-rated films so they can prepare you for things that might be scary in them.

And yet here you are, living through a horror few can fathom.


The trauma of any school shooting is hard to imagine, but the Sandy Hook massacre was in a league of its own. These were first graders. Twenty babies, shot and killed in a matter of minutes. Six educators who tried to protect them.

That was nine years ago. Now the kids that survived Sandy Hook are in high school, and some of them are opening up about their experiences. Their voices deserve to be heard.

In February of this year, Sandy Hook survivor Ashley shared her story with NowThis News. Some of the scenario above was taken from her account:

Sandy Hook Survivor Speaks Out for the First Time

Ashley was 7 when she went through the trauma of Sandy Hook. She said she has experienced survivor's guilt and the pain of people claiming that the shooting was a hoax. "I can’t give you proof except for my trauma," she said.

Another Sandy Hook survivor, Maggie LaBlanca, shared her story at this year's National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence last week. Her best friend, Daniel, was killed in the shooting.

"It's been almost nine years since I endured that day. Everything has stayed with me so clearly," she said. "The trauma never went away, and I still feel sad all the time that I'm here and they're not. I look for Daniel everywhere because it's hard to accept that I lost him."

We mourn those who are killed in school shootings and focus on the numbers of deaths, but the survivors deserve just as much of our thought and emotion. It's traumatic for anyone to have a loved one murdered or to witness someone being killed in front of them. In the worst scenarios, both of those things happen at the same time. And when it's children who are the witnesses, that's just a tragedy none of us should accept as normal.

This TikTok video from a Sandy Hook survivor sums it up succinctly.

At the time, we thought Sandy Hook had to be the last straw. We thought surely 6-year-olds shot and killed in their classrooms would change things. Our lawmakers would surely unite to take action—to do something, anything—to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening. People pleaded. Activists organized. And our laws have barely budged, especially at the federal level, where they have the greatest chance of actually being effective.

It doesn't have to be this way. Most Americans agree on some very basic gun legislation. A 2019 poll reported by Politico showed that 70% of Americans support banning assault weapons, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans. Also in 2019, a National Public Radio (NPR), PBS NewsHour and Maris College poll found that 83% of Americans want Congress to pass legislation requiring background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or via other private sales.

Why wouldn't we want to make it harder for abusers or people with a history of violent or threatening behavior to get firearms? Why wouldn't we want to make it harder for troubled teens to get a hold of guns in their household?

Gun rights activists will argue that no law will prevent all shootings, which is true. The U.S. has far too many guns in circulation to curb all gun violence. But some will prevent some, and some is better than none, especially when we're raising generations of kids who have to practice what to do if a gunman starts shooting up their school.

What we have now is not normal. It's not freedom. It's a tragic embarrassment and a stain on our nation—one that we don't have to accept without a fight. We owe these kids at least that much.

To learn more about common-sense gun legislation and how to make a difference, check out Everytown for Gun Safety at everytown.org and Sandy Hook Promise sandyhookpromise.org.