Remember those dull fire drills we all endured as children—month after month, snaking in long formation down the hallways and loitering at the periphery of the baseball field until the assistant principal blew the all-clear whistle? It turns out that today’s kids also experience a uniquely America-in-the-21st-century supplement to these exercises: the active-shooter drill.
As reported by the Associated Press last week, a survey by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. schools hold some form of “active-shooter” drills to teach kids and teachers how to react in the event that an armed intruder enters the school: “‘Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown,’” the article begins—and it gets more macabre from there:
Some schools make their drills very realistic, simulating the sounds of gunshots and using smoke and fake blood. In one case, armed police officers with weapons drawn burst into a Florida middle school, terrifying staff and students alike…. GAO investigators said one district noted “the difficulty of striking a balance between providing knowledge and inciting fear, particularly at schools with younger children.”
Uh, yeah, that’s a tricky one.
In the 1950s, schools conducted “duck and cover” drills to prepare students for the eventuality of an atomic bomb; my mom remembers being herded out of the classroom, lined up against the lockers, and told to fold her arms over her head—as if crisscrossed arms would really safeguard any child from a mushroom cloud. (Here’s a great video for anyone interested in reliving the magic.) From this distance, those exercises appear absurd and almost quaint in their naïveté—yet another rabble-rousing gambit to dramatize the imminent Commie threat that never was.
But active-shooter drills? They are horrifying for the opposite reason—because, in a nation that now has more guns than people, they might just be necessary.
Not a single U.S. school was ever hit by an atomic bomb, obviously, but plenty have been attacked by shooters with military-grade weapons: There have been, according to the AP article, 25 shootings at elementary schools in the U.S. (though one Sandy Hook-formed advocacy group has offered a much higher estimate of 64 school shootings in 2015 alone). So perhaps, deranged as it sounds, instructing teachers to lock their doors and hit the lights, and students to flee to “designated safe locations,” is the logical solution to a very real problem. At any rate, enacting these apocalyptic exercises is certainly easier than reforming gun laws—so what if a few third-graders get traumatized in the process?
As Yakov Smirnoff would say, “What a country!”