What's Left: I don't want to talk with kids about school shootings

We repeat the same conversations that happened when I was a student, but without any action.

Emma McNamee
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There was an article in The New York Times a few days ago, titled “How to Talk to Children About School Shootings” and tagged within the coverage of the Uvalde Elementary School Shooting.

My first reaction, I wish, was horrified that this is a conversation people have to have with kids. But it wasn’t. I read that title, and the first thing I felt was bewildered because this is by no means a new conversation.

It’s one America has been having, and failing at, since I was in school. Assurances of “it won’t happen here,” were sharpened with “but if it does…” in the hallways of my elementary school, my middle school classroom, and the gymnasium of my high school. I am certain that after Robb Elementary, you can hear the echoes of these conversations across the U.S., happening not for the first time, and tragically, not the last either.

I have vague memories of the day Sandy Hook happened; the aftermath is more permanent to me. I don’t think having a teacher talk you through what to do if a shooter enters your classroom is the sort of thing kids forget. I was in sixth grade.

Parkland, I remember in stark clarity. I was a freshman in college, in Reporting & Writing I, and every television in the journalism department was tuned in to the coverage. Almost everyone in that class was just out of high school. There were only a few months between us and the Parkland seniors in age.


In a little over two decades, there have been seven mass shootings at elementary, middle, or high schools in the United States.

That’s without taking into account shootings on college campuses. That’s without considering horrific events like the Las Vegas shootings in 2017, or the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016. That is without counting the dozens and dozens of instances of gun violence on school campuses that didn't result in mass loss of life. Without all of that, we are still left with seven mass shootings — eight, including Columbine — in places where kids were sent to learn.

School should be a safe place for students, without any guns, and I can’t stand that that is somehow a controversial statement. I don't want to talk with kids about how to protect themselves from a gunman when they should never have to worry about that sort of thing, and I can't help but think if lawmakers had been having different conversations 20 years ago, we might not be repeating these same sentiments now.

I resent the collective hours — yes, hours — of my youth that I spent hiding under cafeteria tables or classroom desks during lockdowns and active shooter drills. I am angry that alongside conversations about economics and The Great Gatsby, my teachers were forced to take time out of their day to talk to us about staying away from windows and keeping our heads down. My dad teaches middle school health; my little sister is a freshman in high school. I have cousins who are too young to learn these lessons, but I know, with every time a tragedy like the shooting in Texas unfolds, they — along with every child in the American school system — will learn them again.

We learned to expect violence before we ever hoped for meaningful reform.

I don’t want empty platitudes while politicians refuse to address the ever-widening gaps in mental health support, refuse to implement background checks, or propose limits on the access to weapons that have resulted in the massive loss of human life.

I am sick to my stomach on thoughts and prayers, and the rehashing of old debates. People talk themselves in circles around gun control while refusing to acknowledge that there are viable blueprints on how to stem widespread gun violence, brought forth by any number of countries that are not suffering through mass shootings on a regular basis — the way we do here.

I don’t want any more thoughts and prayers. I want people to say “it can't happen here,” and I want them to mean it this time.


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Opinion by Emma McNamee
Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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