School has begun and for the first time in my 18 years as a school nurse, I am fearful to welcome another September. I work in an urban district where community gun violence is sadly commonplace, but that is not my fear. I travel throughout the city from school to school where drug dealing is an open-air exercise, but that is not my fear. Emergencies are often solitary experiences because school nurses work independently, but that is not my fear. Families facing deportation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a stark reality and daily occurrence, but that is not my fear.
I am fearful of September with students returning to schools across the country where at any given moment, either before, during or after school, gunfire can invade the safe sanctuary that school has always symbolized. I am fearful that children and teachers will die at the hands of a violent intruder who showed signs and symptoms that were ignored, disbelieved or turfed off, in some cases for years. I am fearful that our schools are not equipped physically, emotionally or spiritually to handle the traumatic experiences that our students carry into the buildings every day.
Fear wakes me up at night as I think about school opening. Recently, a video gaming tournament became a crime scene with 2 dead and 11 injured by a player who was angry and took his violence out on other players. Violence and revenge are partners that wreak havoc on innocence and when coupled with access to weapons, cause death and destruction in the most innocent of spaces. Schools, churches, movie theaters, offices, restaurants, malls, playgrounds, front-steps, and porches are no longer safe places.
This is not hyperbole. Here are the facts in 2018:
- Total Number of Incidents 38,031
- Number of Deaths1 9,554
- Number of Injuries1 18,743
- Number of Children (age 0-11)
Killed or Injured1 452
- Number of Teens (age 12-17)
Killed or Injured1 1,893
- Mass Shooting2 235
- Officer Involved Incident
Officer Shot or Killed2 193
- Officer Involved Incident
Subject-Suspect Shot or Killed2 1,444
- Home Invasion2 1,350
- Defensive Use2 1,176
- Unintentional Shooting2 1,099
Gun violence and crime incidents are collected/validated from 2,500 sources daily – incidents and their source data are found at www.gunviolencearchive.org Data Validated: August 27, 2018
I am also activated and will not let fear paralyze me. Being in action to counter-balance the impact of fear is helpful. The Empty Desk Project is a student-driven campaign that will feature desks, painted by students to share their messages about the impact of gun violence. #NoMoreEmptyDesks is a planned positive disruption that speaks to the forced absence of students lost to gun violence. The curator of this project is a nurse, Kendrea Todt MSN, RN, and here is her description of the project:
“Students who survive gun violence experience the void of the empty desks daily. America must not turn away from the empty desks and the students they represent. If politicians and the greater community could speak to the empty desks, what would they say?” Kendrea Todt, MSN, RN
The Empty Desk Project is being launched in Camden, New Jersey, through the shared vision and professional generosity of an art educator. School nurses and art educators across the country can join forces to bring #NoMoreEmptyDesks to your schools. If you do, please share your journey!
More information and resources:
The Washington Post published a recent article about the number of children lost to gun violence between 1999 and 2016, a staggering 26,000: More than 26,000 children and teens have been killed in gun violence since 1999
The Brady Campaign has a mission to cut gun deaths in half by 2025: Learn about the Brady Campaign
The Sandy Hook Promise has an annual campaign at the start of each school year: Start with Hello Week
Cure Violence is an evidence-based initiative that is based on a public health model of prevention.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was created to demand action from legislators, state and federal; companies; and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms.
AFFIRM Research is a non-profit corporation comprised of physician leaders who seek to end the epidemic of gun violence through research, innovation and evidence-based practice.