Are kindergarten “shooter drills” in the U.S. the new normal?

“Moms and teachers can shoot bad guys, right?” my five-year-old said to me last night as we drove home from his karate class. My fingers dug into the steering wheel and I had to keep from cursing.

“Only police and soldiers carry guns and stop bad guys,” I said. “Why are you asking?”

“Leslie in my class, her dad, he has a gun and he shoots so, so, if there’s a bad guy, what would you do?” he continued.

Call the police.

“Do you like guns?” he said. I couldn’t breathe. I quickly learned why he was asking me these questions.

There was an Active-shooter Drill at his school last week, which he described as a “bad guy with a gun” drill. The teacher told the children not to run but to get under the table; the same table that they colour and paint on. The drill wasn’t a one-off. In a robocall Friday the principal said they will be held weekly and an armed police officer will be on-site to oversee them. I feel sick.

When I was growing up in a town north of Toronto our school had fire drills, and I know many Canadian schools today have added lockdown drills to their safety procedures. My son’s elementary school has fire (and earthquake) drills. But those are simple, innocent affairs – the kids line up and are herded to the soccer field.

Since moving to the U.S. from Canada almost nine years ago there are many cultural differences I’ve had to adjust to and, excuse the clichés, but here they are – silicone boobs, the idea that borrowing from your mortgage is terrific, and, today, it’s the fiery debate on gun control. I never thought the kids in my son’s kindergarten class would be talking about guns.

After the horrific Newtown massacre last December, my husband and I were careful to ensure our son didn’t see the news and we didn’t discuss it in front of him.

So the active-shooter drill disturbed and astonished me for a number of reasons. It’s my job to keep our son safe. To teach him how to keep himself safe; to teach him how to be confident; to teach him what is good and bad. And if I was to give him a laundry list in kindergarten – death, murder, incest, rape, war, fire, carpet bombing, drone strikes, robberies, flash floods – he would be immobilized and useless. 

In grade five we watched the documentary, If You Love This Planet about the horrors of nuclear war and I can recall my terror at the images. Afterwards we sat under our desks, hands over our heads, during a bomb drill. In anticipation of death. My son’s drill reminded me of that.

I wish they’d called it a lost-child drill to explain the presence of the police officer and the subsequent school lockdown.

All I’m suggesting is that there is a time and an age when children should learn about gun violence and gun safety, and in my opinion, it’s not kindergarten. They’re too innocent. It’s the responsibility of parents to introduce the topic; psychologists say less information is best. 

As to my son’s question of whether I like guns, I’ll share this experience. Last year I went to Montana for work and I tried skeet shooting for the first time. It was really fun. I know I sound like a crazy hypocrite so let me explain. 

When you have someone who is not athletic or strong and has not excelled in any sport in her life, has sustained multiple injuries exercising and has fallen from horses, trains, bicycles, and has limited balance walking up the stairs… 

Now if that same person picks up a shotgun for the first time in her life and shoots two clay rabbits in 20 seconds. And then picks up a Magnum .357 and hits the bulls-eye seven out of 10 times from a distance of 20 feet and is the best in a group of six newbies and amazes her instructor… well, you might understand why she loved shooting. It is gobsmackingly fun. So much so that I’d like to try again at a shooting range. 

But I will never make the leap to shooting a real rabbit, viper or deer. I don’t want to see blood. Ever. I don’t want guns in my house. I don’t want my son to learn how to shoot a real gun.

And if I ever thought I did, I would agree to be interrogated by a team of psychologists for a week to discuss my motivations. I’d gladly be fingerprinted and have my irises scanned. (Actually they already did that when I applied for my Permanent Residency Card.) 

Because the thing is, I never want to find myself in a situation where I have access to a weapon that could allow me to shoot someone I think is “a bad guy”. (All a gun does is make a bad situation worse as Nick Kristof wrote recently in the New York Times.) So I’d pick up the phone and dial 911. And that’s what I told my son.

Canadian writer Amber Nasrulla does not intend to buy a bulletproof knapsack for her beloved son.

Related Articles