Are we becoming numb to school shootings?


Public Domain: Alex Hiam

The Upper school’s first “Lockdown discussion” took place May 8, the day after the Colorado STEM shooting.

With a news pattern that changes quickly between issues, important issues can seem unimportant simply because they only remain as a “top story” for a day or two. This media cycle can be attributed to a globalized, interconnected world—and as national and international issues become as important as local ones, it can be difficult to decide which issues you should really care about.

Mass shootings, taking place most recently in schools (the STEM school in Colorado) and places of worship (the New Zealand mosque), is an issue that captures the nation’s attention. Such a frequency of these shootings raises anxiety and alarm, but it can also lead to a sense of powerlessness in the face of a constant news cycle of violence. Research suggests that we are quick to grow “numb” with exposure to violence in the news—and that this desensitization leads to a vicious cycle: as our emotional sensitivity decreases, a tendency toward committing acts of violence goes up.  

Such a frequency of these shootings raises anxiety and alarm, but it can also lead to a sense of powerlessness in the face of a constant news cycle of violence.”

However, with the recent incidents of students fighting back against active shooters—instead of running away or hiding—it can be argued that we are “fed up” with school shootings as a society. In early May, University of North Carolina student Riley Howell sacrificed himself by tackling the gunman on campus, leading to fewer casualties. Kendrick Castillo, a student at the STEM School in Colorado, portrayed similar bravery when he rushed the shooter to save his classmates. This kind of heroic reaction towards violence proves to be a stark contrast to the national response, which follows a predictable pattern: shock gives way to condolences and political statements calling for increased gun control. Now, it appears that students are resisting the familiar school shooter narrative by fighting back.

Policy changes at SPA also mirror the national conversation, which is evident in the new discussions around lockdown drills. In advisory meetings, students were given prompts on possible crisis scenarios—such as a student collapsing in class or a chemical spill in the lab—and discussed the best steps of action. Rather than sitting locked in a room with the blinds closed, this new lockdown “drill” makes the issue of school shootings seem more “real” and tangible. And rather than be frozen if a school shooter situation occurred at SPA, this conversation helps students choose active actions rather than succumbing to fear.

School shootings are an overwhelming issue, but if students at SPA focus on ways they could be an active and moral asset in such situations, then we can make a step in overcoming the desensitization that plagues the country.