The massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has sparked a shift in education as mass shootings continue in places once thought safe and federal efforts to prevent future attacks falter.
The Uvalde tragedy, which killed 19 students and two teachers, occurred the same month as shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, a hair salon in Dallas, and a church in Laguna Woods, California.
There have been other mass shootings since then, including one at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but hopes of new gun measures being passed are slim, even after Congress heard the harrowing testimony of a young Uvalde survivor who told lawmakers, “I want it.” won’t happen again.”
The alarming nature and frequency of the shootings have caused some parents to feel they have a responsibility to make changes to protect their children, as there is no guarantee their state or federal government will take immediate action to prevent will take up arms.
“Just sending my kid to school day in and day out and just crossing my fingers day in and day out?” said Tracy LM Norton, who lives in East Islip, New York. “You can’t live like that.”
Norton is among parents making changes, including switching to homeschooling, buying bulletproof backpacks, and checking if there are guns in homes where their kids may be playing with friends.
She has always been a supporter of public schools. But after the Buffalo supermarket shooting that killed 10 and the Uvalde massacre, she and her husband decided that their 8-year-old Elizabeth would be homeschooled starting this fall.
“We really felt cornered,” Norton said, as if “there really isn’t a safe place that we can have our daughter in the public space for an extended period of time.”
“If the federal government is serious about gun control, if there’s a significant effort to buy back the number of guns that are out there, then I think public school could come back into play for us,” she added.
A step towards homeschooling
Norton is not alone.
In Ogden, Utah, Brittney Lee Fox pulled her sons Dominic, 10, and Jayden, 8, out of school to homeschool them the day after the Uvalde shooting. She plans to attend school board meetings to try and enforce more safety precautions at local public school buildings, but she’s not optimistic that will happen any time soon.
Her sons were nervous about their safety at school when she spoke to them about what happened at Robb Elementary School, she said.
“You feel helpless,” Fox said. “They feel so confused and no matter how we explain it to a kid, they won’t understand because we don’t even understand it as adults.”
Homeschooling had already skyrocketed during the pandemic, with families across the country turning to it over concerns about unpredictable school closures and the spread of Covid.
In the past, school shootings have led to a surge in inquiries about homeschooling, said Jeremy Newman, associate director of the Texas Home School Coalition, which provides support and advocacy for homeschooling families across the state.
Uvalde was no exception. The coalition held a convention last week to unveil a program specifically for new homeschoolers, “and it was packed this year,” Newman said.
Safety is often just one of many reasons families pull their children out of public school, he added. Other concerns include peer pressure, drugs and what is taught in the curriculum.
“Most of these parents had four or five things that worried them, and there was only one that drove them over the edge,” he said.
Increasing sales of bulletproof backpacks
Companies selling bulletproof backpacks, meanwhile, have seen their sales jump since the Uvalde shooting.
TuffyPacks, which sells bulletproof backpacks and backpack bulletproof inserts, has seen sales increase 300 to 500 percent, owner Steve Naremore said.
Guard Dog Security has seen increasing demand for its bulletproof backpacks from both customers and national retailers who carry its products, said Yasir Sheikh, the company’s president and CEO, but declined to reveal details of the sales “out of respect for the families and Sacrifice” in Uvalde.
The companies’ products are controversial, both because the assault weapons used in some recent school shootings are more powerful than what the backpacks are designed to withstand and because the companies have been accused of playing on parents’ fears. Sheikh, who offers other personal defense items such as pepper spray and stun guns, denies those charges.
“I’d be a lot happier if we didn’t have to deal with school shootings, and if that meant there wasn’t a need for bulletproof backpacks, I’d be happier about that, too,” he said.
Other steps parents can take
While school shootings remain rare, the chances of a child coming across an unlocked firearm in a home are slim. One study estimated that 4.6 million children lived in a household with a loaded and unlocked gun.
Marjorie Sanfilippo, a psychology professor and Executive Director for Academic Excellence at Eckerd College, has investigated whether educating children about firearm safety prevents them from touching a gun. Her studies — which involved giving kids access to a real gun after telling them not to play with it — showed they have an “insatiable curiosity without realizing the potential consequences,” she said .
“My research has shown that no amount of education will be powerful enough to overcome a child’s curiosity, especially when egged on by another child,” Sanfilippo said.
Experts have long recommended that parents ask if there is a gun in a home before sending their children to a playdate, and Uvalde urged many parents to share tips on social media. But the conversation can feel awkward.
If parents are uncomfortable, focus the discussion on your own child, Sanfilippo suggested.
“Say, ‘I don’t know what my kid would do if they found a gun. I think he would be really curious about that and so we’re trying to make sure he doesn’t have access to a gun in any house he goes to,” she said. “Then you don’t say anything bad about the parents.”
As worrisome as it is to raise children in an era of mass shootings, try not to project your fear onto them, said Marc Zimmerman, co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University of Michigan and co-director of the National Center for school safety.
It’s important to think about prevention: How educators, parents and children can help create a supportive school climate so children don’t feel isolated or bullied, he said. Wherever you or your child go, be vigilant and report anything that seems unusual.
But make sure you get on with your life, he added.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “If we live an anxious life, it only creates fear, and fear creates all kinds of other problems.”