Sixty-some odd years ago, I attended a rural high school. It was small: my graduating class (and, yes, I am a high school graduate) was 77.
Being in “tornado alley,” we did have severe storm and tornado drills. These mostly involved hunkering under our desks for a few minutes.
Fire drills, to my teenage brain, were a lot more enjoyable. When the fire alarm went off, we walked in an orderly line to the outside of the school where we remained for 15-20 minutes.
It was my hope that the fire drill would occur during the Algebra II class. Instead, it was usually during English class, which meant interrupting a class I liked.
Whatever, those were the only drills that I remember. Tornado and fire. We were prepared, but neither a tornado nor fire struck my high school, as least not while I was there.
Now, thanks to Sandy Hook, Parkland and several other school shootings, another drill has been added. Most high schools still do the tornado and fire drills, but they now also do an “active shooter” drill.
This drill typically applies only to large urban schools, but it does apply to some small rural ones, such as the one that my grandchildren attend. According to my granddaughter, who is a sophomore (how did she get so old?) at that small rural school, the “active shooter” drill mostly involves barricading the classroom door and hoping for the best.
What has changed? I have mentioned some of the reasons for the change — what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and others, including the massacre 20 years ago at Columbine High School in Colorado. In all or most of these events, a military-style assault weapon was used.
The “active shooter” drill, according to law enforcement and school officials, is designed to keep casualties and injuries to a minimum. Even if the shooter is armed with a six-shooter, there would likely be casualties and injuries, but those would be small.
If the active shooter is armed with an assault weapon, deaths and injuries would be (and are) tremendously multiplied. The “active shooter” drills keep my granddaughter and grandson from being victims of a person out to kill with an assault weapon.
From that perspective, “active shooter” drills, while dreadful, are necessary, and school officials are to be commended for reacting to this “new normal.”
Back to my high school days long ago. All of us boys, and several girls, owned firearms. We used the firearms (rifles and shotguns) for hunting.
Pistols were useless for this purpose, and, to my knowledge, no one had a handgun. Our prey consisted of rabbits, squirrels, quail and pheasants. We never considered using these weapons on people.
Most of us graduated from BB guns to “real” firearms. The only training we received was from our parents, which mostly consisted of common sense. “Always keep the gun pointed toward the ground.” “Never point the gun at a person” and other such words of wisdom.
There were, of course, a few malcontents. Some of them were expelled; others, for reasons known only to them, just seemed to dislike just about everyone.
While it was dangerous to be alone with these people, about all that would occur was a black eye or a bloody nose.
Consequently, when a restroom break became necessary, it was deemed wise to have a few friends along.
But, no one was ever shot, not even when the unwise ventured into the restroom alone. Granted, it was a simpler time, when all we had to worry about were tornadoes and fires or how to be liked by someone of the opposite gender.
Things are not so simple now. While the same worries (tornadoes, fire and the opposite gender) are still problematic in high schools, a new one has been added in the past few years.
In an attempt to react to a person out to kill and armed with a weapon of war, schools from coast-to-coast have enacted the “active shooter” drills. Retail outlets now sell bulletproof backpacks.
Not much can be done about preventing tornadoes. Fires can be caused by many things, from faulty wiring to malcontents with matches or a blowtorch.
The preferred weapon for mass shootings can be dealt with with common sense.
A common-sense response to the new normal would be to ban assault weapons.
Unfortunately, that won’t happen with our bought-and-paid-for “leaders” in thrall to the NRA.
Welcome to the new normal.
Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.