Last week, a violent mob of Donald Trump-supporting domestic terrorists stormed the US Capitol building in an attempted coup to overturn the presidential election results. Members of Congress were forced into lockdown and sheltered in place. Many barricaded themselves in their offices and hid under their desks until they could be safely evacuated. As photos of lawmakers huddled behind chairs circulated throughout most major news outlets, the scene shown was eerily similar to a familiar aspect of K-12 education: school shootings.
Lawmakers faced a reality that students have experienced every year while at school. In that moment, huddled under desks with armed men just outside the door, heart pounding, terrified that even the slightest movement will give away your position, the comparison is glaring. Even though the immediate threat of violence in our nation’s Capitol Building has passed, future generations of lawmakers will live with the knowledge that an armed insurrection occurred on January 6, 2021. Similarly, students at numerous schools across our country live with the awareness that school shootings have not only occurred in the past but continue to be a threat in the future.
Just two years ago, a gang-related shooting occurred directly outside of Lamar’s campus, which resulted in the tragic death of a graduating senior. During that time, I was in the cafeteria eating lunch with my friends. With just one shout of “Shooter!” from a student, either as a joke or as a reaction to events occurring near campus, a massive stampede of students raced out of the cafeteria, frantically running for what we thought was for our lives.
I will never forget the emotions that jolted through me in that moment, as I ran out of that building. Although the threat was not directly on campus, the fear certainly was.
School shootings have occurred all throughout our nation, as a plague of its own kind. According to CNN, in the year following the 2018 Parkland massacre, which resulted in 17 student deaths, there was an average of one school shooting in the US every 12 days.
While it is terrifying that our lawmakers were forced to cower under chairs, I cannot help but see the irony of the situation. For years, students, parents and activists have lobbied our government leaders for increased gun control. The March for Our Lives protest (2018), one of the largest protests in United States history, pushed for tighter gun restrictions, with little to no tangible legislative changes.
During the Capitol riots, I watched our lawmakers reflect in real-time on what happened through their social media posts. Congresswoman Grace Meng tweeted, “I was terrified for my life today. I said ‘bye’ to my family and I’m still in hiding,” while Congresswoman Ilhan Omar wrote, “Running for our lives as Members of Congress in the United States is really devastating and totally shocking.”
The circumstances that forced these lawmakers into hiding were undeniably horrific. However, they experienced a similar terror that thousands of students potentially feel everyday at school. During that gang-related shooting, I also texted my family, “I love you,” unsure if I would make it out alive, crouched under a table in lockdown.
The difference between our situations was that the attempted Capitol building coup was an anomaly, whereas lawmakers have allowed a world to exist in which school shootings have become barely newsworthy. Today, 95% of schools in the United States require mandatory active shooter drills in which students regularly practice lockdown. This was the first time many lawmakers were forced to shelter in place. In fact, this event was only the third time a gun has been fired in the Capitol since 1814. Meanwhile, there were at least 66 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2020 alone, despite a global pandemic where most learning occurred in a virtual environment.
Our senators and congressmen only experienced a small sample of what has become rampant in American schools. I hope that they remember the fear they felt, the panic of knowing that exiting the building in a body bag or walking out with a racing heart was dependent on the strength of clumsily stacked chairs against a locked door. I hope they remember their emotions as adults, with years of life experience to anchor heightened fears and how children, as young as 6 years old have faced worse situations in critical times of their development. I hope that the next time gun control legislation is up for debate, they shed any apathy and allegiance to the powerful gun lobby. I hope that they feel compelled to create change, if not for the students, then for the fear they felt themselves.