The Balloon Lockdown

“Attention all students and faculty, the school is now entering safe mode due to an external threat.”

My heart drops. Surely this is has to be a drill. My only choice is to swallow fear, follow orders, and proceed to the nearest classroom. Rumors fly. No one knows the real story, solely a composition of background noise from unreliable sources. Nobody knew what to believe. After what seemed to be hours, the police officer, adorned with bullet proof armor, came in through the office doors to declare that we are now cleared to leave the building. The external threat? A balloon popping, which sounded like gunfire.

A balloon popping had the ability to lock down an entire neighborhood in a matter of minutes. Why is that? Well, mass shootings, especially in schools, have become more frequent in the past decade, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The rapidly growing frequency in these violent acts has led to an evolution of human behavior, where analyzing everything through an overly cautious lens is necessary. This is the reason why we hear gunshots in fireworks, thunder, or even in a popping balloon. The effect of rising gun violence in America is quickly exiting the realm of normalcy. This new fear leads to new obstacles in our day to day lives. It has caused Americans to take extensive precautions to prevent another shooting.

While fear plays to the benefit of our nation’s political figures, it also plays to the destruction of our nation’s mentally ill people. Gun violence and mental illness are often two issues that somehow end up intertwined; this is a very dangerous mistake. People with mental illness are often assumed to be violent, when in fact the large majority are not at all. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people suffering with mental illnesses are ten times more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than somebody with no mental illness at all. A select few people with mental illnesses have inflicted devastating acts on our nation’s schools such as those in Newtown, Connecticut, or Parkland, Florida, but this problem’s perpetrators come from all walks of life. I believe that the few examples I have mentioned however, have enabled people in high power to redirect our attention to fearing all people with mental illness. and distract us from the real enemy: the general misuse of these destructive weapons and the growing accessibility to them.

We do have the right to be fearful of mass shootings. These fears, although legitimate, are beginning to disrupt society’s normal functions. Until we resolve the issue of gun violence in America, its wavering effects will leave us either attributing it to the mentally ill people, or pondering if guns are appropriate in the hands of educators. But for now, the problem remains, and all across this country there are children in schools, fearing for their lives, just as I was. Unbeknownst to me, the source of this fear was something as trivial as a balloon.