‘We’re scared for our lives going to school’: Are we listening as our children ask for help?

It’s summer now. Schools are, for the most part, empty. But that doesn’t mean our children aren’t thinking about them.

Or, more specifically, the potential for gun violence at school.

Their worries are no surprise:

It has been only a month since a gunman terrorized Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, slaughtering 19 fourth graders and two of their teachers as they called for help from their classrooms, and wounding – physically and emotionally – many more.

Since then, there have been at least 65 mass shootings across the country, with children killed or hurt in about two dozens of the incidents, which included graduation parties and summer block parties.

We’ve taught our children, from their first moments in a classroom, how to prepare for the possibility of a gunman in school. Lockdown drills are as routine as fire drills, even if school shootings are rare.

It’s no wonder they’re scared. That they want to see changes. That they want adults to do something to keep them safe in their classrooms.

They’re writing letters. They’re speaking out. They’re walking out. And hoping it might make a difference. Lives, perhaps their own, are at stake.

Are we listening? Are we doing enough? Here’s what kids themselves told USA TODAY Opinion.

‘I don’t feel safe anymore’

Dani Horna-Baxter, 15, a rising sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, has lived her entire school life with the specter of school shootings hanging over her: She was in kindergarten when 20 children and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.

“Last year, two guns were brought to my school,” Dani said. “One was used to pistol whip someone and a student alerted the police about the second one so it wasn’t used. But I wonder what could have happened if it was brought inside. I don’t feel safe anymore. As soon as I see my class for the first time, my first thought is how to get out. How to escape the school that is supposed to keep me safe, and I think that’s really messed up.”

Are adults doing enough to keep you safe?

“Every time there’s a mass shooting, everyone freaks out, finds someone to blame, offers thoughts and prayers, and nothing happens,” she said. “Somehow, it’s rarely the gun’s fault.”

‘You can’t even rent a car’

Audrey Bruden, 17, is a rising senior in South River, New Jersey. She saw the news about Uvalde on Instagram after her school day ended. She’s had a hard time grappling with the idea that "you go in one day and you don’t come out."

"I definitely think we need more laws, like more restrictions and stuff," she said. "It’s crazy. You can buy a gun at 18 years old. I’m 17 right now. So next year I could potentially buy a gun and that's crazy because you're barely an adult. So I think we should raise the age limit to at least 21. ... I heard that you can’t even rent a car until you’re 25, so I don't understand how that works.

‘I could be the one with a bullet in me’

Isabella Garcia-Ipolito is a rising senior at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia, where she helped to organize a student walkout after the Uvalde shooting as part of a nationwide demonstration in support of gun reform legislation.

"I pray that the nation will wake up and say that the lives of human beings matter so much more than the right to bear arms," said Isabella, who, like many students, has endured lockdowns that were more than just drills.

"One of my most vivid memories of my time in elementary school was one day when there was a shooting in the neighborhood around my school. I remember our whole school went into lockdown; we had to hide in the dark corner of a classroom and wait for hours for the OK from the loudspeaker, saying it was safe to resume school. I remember looking at the window and seeing police cars entering the school. And my only thoughts during these hours were full of fear. I was only in third grade and I was getting rushed into a corner while fears that I was going to die filled my mind.  ... I can’t imagine, though, what it feels like to lose a classmate, teacher, mother, brother, sister or best friend to gun violence, and I pray to never have to experience that pain. But unfortunately, it is a very real possibility that at some point in my life, I could be the one with a bullet in me or know someone who was killed in a school shooting.

Mourners pay their respects on May 27, 2022, at a memorial for the children and teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.
Mourners pay their respects on May 27, 2022, at a memorial for the children and teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.
Mourners pay their respects on May 27, 2022, at a memorial for the children and teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.
Mourners pay their respects on May 27, 2022, at a memorial for the children and teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022.

‘More of a threat to our schools’

Samuel Andrew Hart is a senior at Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix. He thinks the country would be safer if the minimum age to purchase  a semiautomatic rifle were raised to 21.

"Assault weapons as well have no practical use and only create more of a threat to our schools. As a high school senior, I've often thought about if my school's next, and if nothing is changed it very well could be."

‘Omg Mom’

Twins Breanna and Brooke Bennett have experienced real school lockdowns, not drills. Both 14-year-olds from Montgomery, Alabama, want adults to do more to keep them safe.

From left, twins Brooke and Breanna Bennett
From left, twins Brooke and Breanna Bennett

The day of the Uvalde shooting, Breanna was tearfully texting her mother.

“Omg Mom.”

“Now it’s 19.”

“19 kids killed at a Texas elementary school!”

“There were 14 kids killed just a few hours ago.”

“Five more KIDS dead 😢😢😢”

“Two teachers dead!”

Later, Brooke recalled their own brushes with danger at school.

"When we lived in Miami, on two or three occasions, men with guns would run through our open courtyard-style school building in Coconut Grove to escape the police after robbing a nearby bank," she said. "Most schools had lockdown drills, but we had real lockdowns. One time, I remember all of us helping our fourth-grade teacher push a file cabinet against the door. Another time, we were in the cafeteria; I remember the sounds of police sirens and helicopters whirling around above us. I was afraid, but I’m sure my fear cannot compare to the fear the children of Uvalde experienced."

‘Dear USA government officials’

Remington Brenner with her letter to lawmakers
Remington Brenner with her letter to lawmakers

Remington Brenner, 10, was the only fifth grader to walk out last month in support of gun reform at Calf Pen Meadow Elementary School in Milford, Connecticut. She also sent a letter to lawmakers.

Dear USA government officials,

I think that in order to get a gun in the USA, you should have to go through a mental evaluation to get it done. The reasons are that it will reduce the number of mass shootings and murders, and people will be safer.

Some families send their kids to school. And never get to hug them again.

The safety of people is very important to me and my family and friends and other people.

Please take this into consideration.

‘Legislation can be passed, too’

Janare Davis,18, just graduated from high school in Portsmouth, Virginia, where crime is a regular concern.

"I feel like more safety measures can be put in place by school districts and also by the government. So one example is school safety, metal detectors is one thing and officers are another thing, and also like wands. But legislation can be passed, too. I don’t know if it will or if it can stop school shootings, but it can stop people, irresponsible people from getting guns."

A vigil for victims of recent mass shootings on May 28, 2022, in Sunrise, Fla.
A vigil for victims of recent mass shootings on May 28, 2022, in Sunrise, Fla.
Protest against gun violence in Washington, D.C.,  on June 11, 2022.
Protest against gun violence in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 2022.

‘Scared to go to school again’

Norah Hodge is a rising fifth grader in Omaha, Nebraska, and she’s written a note to U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer about her fears.

"The school shooting in Texas has me worried. I am 10, and to hear kids my age passed away due to a school shooting is mortifying. It makes me scared to go to school again next year. We kids shouldn't have to live in fear of being shot. I believe we need red flag laws, but we also need more voices to help stand against the unreasonable gun laws."

‘Really tired of having nightmares’

Anna Bullock, 15, is a rising sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois. She’s experienced three gun-related incidents in her school career, and she longs for adults to do more to keep her and her classmates safe – physically and emotionally.

"I’m really, really tired of having nightmares where I’m like in my math class and I get shot because there’s not a good hiding spot and it’s too overcrowded in there. I’m just so tired of it. And a lot of people believe that the way to solve the problem is to give teachers guns, which is inherently more problematic on its own, because teachers shouldn’t have to learn how to use those weapons just to protect their students and themselves from something that they shouldn’t have to worry about but they sadly have to worry about. And it would cause more problems, especially having that many guns in a school already with a bunch of immature teenagers, preteens, children. It would just be entirely problematic. And the way to really solve the problem full on is to just get rid of the guns, overall. Because yes restrictions might help, but there’s no way you’re going to entirely solve the problems if you don’t get rid of the weapon in itself.”

‘My generation is mad’

Lucy Palma, rising senior, is president of March for our Lives Club at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School. She said she helped to organize a student walkout, a 1.5-mile trek in the area around her school in Northern Virginia, in the shadow of Washington, D.C., because "we're scared for our lives going to school."  The students walked in silence.

"Honestly, my generation is mad – me, my friends, people I don’t know, people who I’ve met online, everyone leading these movements – we're mad, we're angry. And I think we’re honestly mad at the adults in our life. We’re mad at Congress for allowing children to become victims of gun violence over and over again and not passing things. When Sandy Hook happened, they said never again. And it happens again and again and again. And that makes me lose my faith and the adults in this world. It makes me lose my faith in Congress to do their job to protect me, to protect my peers.  ... We're not going to go through the cycle of saying, oh, thoughts and prayers, every time a shooting happens and then going on with our normal life. We are going to break that cycle eventually. And the way we break it is by putting pressure on adults to not send thoughts and prayers, but instead pass something that will actually make a difference."

Our children are scared. They’re speaking out. Will we listen to them?

Contributing: Casey Blake, Austin Bogues, Rex Huppke, Carli Pierson

This editorial is part of a series by USA TODAY Opinion about police accountability and building safer communities. The project began in 2021 by examining qualified immunity and continues in 2022 by examining various ways to improve law enforcement. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together, which does not provide editorial input.

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff and the USA TODAY Network. Most editorials are coupled with an Opposing View, a unique USA TODAY feature.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gun violence and children - Here's what kids about being scared.