No longer is there a need to worry if you’re receiving a proper education; you don’t have time for calculus when you’re running for your life due to gun violence.

You don’t need to catch a bullet to feel the impact of gun violence. Even teens who have only ever experienced drills can testify that the constant threat of gun violence is so incredibly distracting and severe, that their brains are reshaping.

If you’ve gone through these intruder drills, you know their long-term effects. 

Here, you’ll find an exploration of this experience, confirmation of the effects you feel, and ideas for how to move forward with the awareness of guns forced into your brain – as if it were part of your school’s core curriculum.

What is gun culture?

In Texas, anyone over 21 with no prior convictions or particular criminal record who isn’t intoxicated can carry a handgun with no need for a permit. This ‘broadens’ the category of those who can carry handguns to just about anyone. When anyone can legally carry a gun, guns become a big part of the local culture.

‘Gun culture’ refers to the attitudes people have towards guns. Gun culture can involve political stances: laws and bills. But gun culture has a different meaning concerning how students respond to and deal with society’s treatment of guns.

Think of how students laugh and make memes during a possible shooting, covering their fear with humor, ignoring how horrible the situation may be. Gun culture is like a new core curriculum— cemented into our brains.

Are students too exposed to guns to fear them?

Most shooters in public schools are students of that specific school. Gun laws are not doing enough to keep these shooters from getting their hands on a gun.

Guns in schools are so standard that students have become numb to the reality of it. For those who haven’t been in school to experience these events, imagine this situation: an intruder alarm blaring, the constant sound distorting in your ears. You check your phone, texting friends and classmates all across campus, different stories and claims spreading.

Now, picture this happening multiple times throughout your high school and middle school experience. Hannah Thomas, from Houston, Texas, has experienced many lockdown drills due to possible gun violence in her schools. She says, “I remember it being something that was once so feared, but after common exposure, it’s simply my new reality.”

One student’s ‘new reality’ of gun violence in schools

The point is that, for many high schoolers, a gun on campus happens multiple times. Not just once, but at least once each school year. That is what my experience has been. 

7th grade – The school introduces a new intruder alarm. 

During 3rd period science, the alarm malfunctions and rings for over 10 minutes— 10 minutes, in which neither students nor staff are aware that it was a malfunction. My teacher does yoga to calm himself. I find relief knowing my younger brother isn’t on campus.

8th grade – 7th period algebra. 

The alarm rings and rings, and again, we ask ourselves, is this a drill? Our teacher pulls a crowbar. He says, “If it’s not a drill.” 

10th grade – 6th period creative writing. 

We can hear someone running down the hall. People post pictures of police officers and enforcement walking outside campus. Students on Zoom are unaware of what’s happening. We laugh at the idea of students online suddenly hearing gunshots. The in-person students sit against the wall closest to the door because the wall adjacent to the hallway is made entirely of glass windows. The only thing hiding us is a curtain. When students first start attending this school, they ask, “Is the glass bulletproof?” We laugh and say, “No, but don’t worry, it’s soundproof.” Gun violence is a norm by this point, even during a pandemic.

11th grade – 2nd period band. 

Initially, we’re spread across the room against our lockers, giggling. We’re sure it’s just a drill. Our director is laughing along with us. He suddenly pushes us into smaller groups in the practice rooms and offices, and even in the dark, I can tell something is wrong. Yet, we laugh and take pictures in these tiny rooms. An hour and a half later, we’re released to go to 3rd period. Half the student body goes home.

12th grade – The fire alarm goes off. 

My first thought is of those stories I’ve heard online in which the shooter pulls the fire alarm to get everyone out of their classroom and then shoots. I wonder if anyone has those same thoughts. My fears are wrong— there was just a fire. “Just a fire” is an insane thought, but it becomes mild as opposed to “just a gun.” “I’ve always been afraid people will run towards the gun instead of away from it in their disorientation,” says Frida Perales from Houston, Texas. 

If you’re wondering why nothing happened in 9th grade, the answer is that COVID-19 cut the school year short. Not included in these recountings are the dozens of times my schools have received gun violence threats that caused hundreds of students not to attend school out of fear. At my high school, a gun shop was just across the street, incredibly near the coffee shop many students frequented. The current Texas law does not prohibit these types of gun stores from being near schools.

Can the constant threat of gun violence hurt students, even if they aren’t actually shot?

Throughout these occurrences, no bullets were fired. In fact, in many of these, there was never a gun on campus at all. Abigail Nelson, from San Antonio, Texas, says, “Even though I feel quite desensitized to guns, I do still fear them greatly.” In 2023 alone, there were 38 school shootings in which individuals were hurt or killed in the US. Due to the number of shootings that occur, over 95% of schools have intruder drills for students. But the student body is scarcely unaware of whether these are drills or if a real threat is stalking the halls, bringing them intense fear and lasting damage. 

How are these gun violence lockdown drills changing teen brains?

Gun trauma is evident even in those who haven’t been face to face with a gun. Simply the threat of it is enough to cause students near-irreparable damage. In a 2020 study from Everytown and Georgia Tech, a 52% increase in the anxiety levels of high school staff and students is reported in the first three months after a lockdown drill. Students are suffering greatly due to these drills— leaving them with a different mindset than they had before, with constant anxiety and thoughts that consume them. 

Hiding behind a chalkboard can’t be the only solution

As a student, are you afraid to go to school? Or is this fear so constant and old that it’s found a place in the back of your mind, a thought that only arises when you hear a sudden “BANG” or when the alarm goes off? As a parent, is homeschooling now becoming the favorable option for you? Do you pray before your child gets on the bus each morning? 

What can we do about gun violence and gun trauma?

This constant gun violence needs to reach its end. As students, parents, teachers, and staff, we must all constantly email and call the representatives of our states and continue to push for stricter gun regulations. The government should give no more bullets the freedom to bear the death of any of our children.

For students and staff struggling with the effects of an intruder drill or a school shooting, there are many ways you can try to cope.

Many school counselors can help you connect with a trusted therapist to help you process your emotions. If you would rather not speak to a therapist, talk to other students and peers about your feelings. Peer support may be accessible for free in your school district.

Many students have the same thoughts that you do, and you shouldn’t feel alone. Together, we can solve the problem.