Do you have a plan? Do you fight? Do you run? Who do you try to save? Where do you hide when the shots start ringing?
I have a plan. Everyone I went to school with has a plan. The plan for what to do if you’re in a mass shooting.
I first developed my plan when I was in middle school, but it became more fleshed out in high school when it seemed more plausible. A bunch of mentally unstable teenagers in Utah, a pro-gun state? Of course it’s going to happen.
My plan changed every year of course — as I was in new classes and new places — but the basics remained the same. In every room, I had a place I would hide, an improvised weapon and a running path. If it happened in between classes, there was more emphasis on running because I had to either run to the nearest classroom or exit.
It was best if I could find some obscure spot to run to. If I was in the south side of the building, it was a small bathroom by the auditorium that no one used or knew was there. If I was in the north side, it was the classroom that connected to the greenhouse and led outside. Upstairs it was the Foods classroom because it connected two hallways together so it was great for an escape.
Sometimes us students or peers exchange tips. It mostly comes in the form of discovering a new hiding place in a building with someone else and going, “Hey, this would be a great hiding place.”
“I know, right?! You know I saw a creepy hallway back by the bathrooms that totally leads to some back room. That’d be a great place too.”
The thing is, I’ve never been in a mass shooting. I’ve never lived near where one happened. I don’t have a personal relationship with anyone that has been in one. I have never been directly affected by a mass shooting.
And yet, it is something that I worry about quite constantly. It’s an unconscious worry, but it’s there. And it’s strong.
Anxiety caused by mass shootings is something that is common amongst my generation. We all think about it when we enter a public place, even if we don’t say it out loud. We all have developed serious vicarious trauma.
Vicarious traumatization is the process of developing trauma from emotionally or empathetically connecting to others that have gone through a traumatic experience, according to the American Counseling Association. With mass shootings, essentially we developed trauma simply from hearing about them in the news.
It dominates our media feeds. A constant barrage of seeing people like us dying, walking out of schools in single file lines, or fleeing movie theatres and nightclubs. We can’t help but see ourselves riddled with bullet holes.
It’s not that we can’t stomach violent images, it’s that the fear and anxiety are completely uncontrollable. It’s a thought process that’s so automatic in us that most of us don’t even realize it’s abnormal.
It’s the same thought process that made people fear nuclear war and install bomb shelters in every building in the 60s. The same process that made people worried about serial killers and set city-wide curfews in the 80s.
The trauma worms its way into our everyday lives. Every time I go to a restaurant and someone drops a dish that shatters and is loud enough to sound like a gunshot through glass. Every time I go to a concert and realize the door’s too small so not everyone can flee and we’re all stuck like fish in a barrel. Every time I go to a movie and see someone with a large bag because that bag is certainly large enough to carry multiple guns that can be pulled out at any time during the movie.
The list goes on and on and on. I’m not sure if it ends. I, at least, haven’t found the end of it yet.
I know it may seem as if us Millenials and Gen Z people make light of these fears, but it’s how we survive, and it’s how we make sure others survive. Laughter is the only thing we’ve found that lessens the fear. It’s how we cope with our anxiety of knowing we could all be shot dead at any moment. We find solace in knowing we are all feeling the same worry, the same fear.
We are a traumatized generation and we have accepted our fate.
Don’t make the next generation accept theirs.
So I’m going to ask this again.
Do you have a plan?