My teaching career began 31 years ago, before “active shooter drills” for teachers and children existed. Never did I imagine that schools would become hardened, school resource officers would be part of our school communities, or my children and their peers would describe themselves as the first complete Lockdown Generation. How have we, as a collective society, let this happen?
In 1871, the NRA was established with the purpose of training hunters and marksmen on gun use and safety. It was a hunting and conservation organization with absolutely no reference to the Second Amendment in its materials.
In 1977, this changed. A leadership change took place, with gun rights advocates assuming positions of power in the organization. The NRA’s purpose shifted, as did their messaging. The organization moved to equating guns with freedom and any attempt at commonsense gun reforms as anti-freedom. They became closely aligned with the gun manufacturing industry and currently take millions in contributions from Smith and Wesson and Bushmaster. The NRA uses tactics of fear and division to fight against an invisible enemy that constantly seeks to take your gun.
Against this backdrop of division, Columbine took place in 1999. This was not the first school shooting in the country, but the level of violence kept it in the news for months. Lockdown drills in schools began as a response and became increasingly commonplace across the country.
My first real lockdown came in 2006, when a domestic dispute near our school involved an armed suspect potentially coming onto our school campus. While my children were put into a modified lockdown at their elementary school, the SWAT team went through my school. As they entered the classroom, guns drawn, you were required to show your identification badge. My family watched as the helicopters circled my school on TV, and my husband and I both took our turns in front of the SWAT team.
In 2012, the unimaginable happened and 20 students and teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Four days later, my now sixth-grader daughter and I arrived near campus to find police barricades. Once again, I showed my badge and was asked to go to our off-site evacuation location to meet buses that were being diverted. A possible gunman had approached the school gates. On that day, I had to leave my own child with her peers to greet terrified parents picking up their children. My husband and youngest daughter ran to the elementary school office to notify her principal to go into lockdown as well.
In the summer of 2016, the propaganda of the NRA expanded in a horrific ad where the “clenched fist of truth” would be necessary against the invisible enemy which “used their media and used their schools” to wage war against the Second Amendment. As a teacher, it was chilling to hear. In early 2017 of that school year, the Parkland school shooting occurred.
By now, my children were in high school. Together, my daughters decided to take the lead and join the call for a March for Our Lives. They put out a social media request, Clara McRae quickly joined them, and Helena Youth Against Gun Violence was born. This group was bipartisan and sought common ground solutions like closing the gun show loophole in Montana and calls for suicide awareness programs, since Montana is second in the nation for suicides.
Unbeknownst to many, they met with their elected officials. Steve Bullock met with them publicly. Jon Tester and Steve Daines met with them privately. Greg Gianforte refused to meet with them. My children told our family stories in front of a crowd of over 1,000. HYAGV organized a candidate forum; all the Congressional Democratic and Libertarian candidates attended. No GOP members came.
As we head into the elections this year, we know NRA executives have been charged with fraud and abuse. The monies they collect have been used to enrich themselves with trips to the Bahamas and expensive gifts for friends. The acceptance of foreign monies has been established as well. The invisible enemy is now antifa and socialists. Somehow, openly carrying an AK-47 at a protest is supposed to be a new normal.
In nightly ads, Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte tout their NRA A ratings. Greg Gianforte is among the top recipients of NRA monies in our Congress. The NRA switched Jon Tester to a D rating in 2018 promoting Matt Rosendale instead.
As a teacher nearing the end of my career, the fear-mongering using this wedge issue has grown old. In this time of COVID, I will endure two days of lockdown drills. I will put your children (socially distanced) under their desks, lock my doors, draw my shades and stand with my pepper spray, ready to protect them. And I will wonder when you will ever say, "enough."
Shannon Kinsella Thomas is a University of Montana graduate who has taught in Missoula and currently teaches eighth grade science in Helena. She counts 35 years in education, teaching in both private and public schools.
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