Not long after the first day of school back east, my buddy called with a complaint: His daughter, a brand new fourth-grader, had just participated in her first “active shooter drill,” an exercise meant to prepare kids for the possibility that a psychopath with an AR-15 might one day soon storm the school and begin firing.
“I can’t believe this is the world we live in now,” my friend said. “We have to train kids on how not to be killed at school. Because it could actually happen, so they have to be ready. Unreal.”
This was the point in the conversation where I made a critical mistake — by trying to use reason instead of simply agreeing with him.
“You know how many mass shootings there have been in America so far this year?” I asked. “Let me tell you. About 300. About 300 shootings across the country where four or more people have been shot by a single gunman in a single incident.”
My friend: “So what’s your point?”
Me: “That there’s about 100,000 public schools in the United States. You know how many people have been killed by gunfire at one of those schools this year? Three. And none of those involved a mass shooter.”
We’ve had many of these conversations, so what came next was predictable. My buddy explained how my point made no sense.
Then he uttered a phrase I’ve heard many times from him this past decade: “Dude, you don’t have kids, so you really don’t get it.”
I’ll stipulate to this fact. He is absolutely correct; I don’t have kids. Nor do I understand why it makes sense to scare the crap out of children, ripping boogeymen from the headlines so children can be prepared for an incident that has less of a chance of happening than being killed by hornets, wasps or bees.
By the way, your chances of dying by a lethal sting? About one in 63,225 across your lifetime, according to the National Safety Council.
Your chances of being mauled to death by a dog? About one in 112,000. Being killed by lightning? About one in 162,000.
Even if my buddy refuses to recognize my point, I imagine many of you get where I’m going with this: There’s nothing wrong with teaching children to be aware of life’s dangers and preparing them to respond to potentially deadly threats.
But such preparation can be detrimental if we don’t also teach kids — and ourselves — to arrange life’s threats in some kind of hierarchy.
The child who goes through life swilling sodas and eating pancakes for dinner but ready for a mass shooting on school grounds is likely the kid who dies early from heart disease.
You’ve got a lifetime one in seven chance of dying that way if you’re playing along at home.
To be clear, I’m not arguing for ignorance because such an uneducated state represents bliss. I’m arguing for more education in hopes that it creates the ability to balance what’s realistic and what’s wildly unlikely.
It’s an exercise I’ve performed myself over and over, like whenever a plane trip makes me nervous. I remind myself that every day in this country, about 87,000 domestic flights take off and land. On the worst day in aviation history, sick bastards managed to gain control of four planes.
When it comes to dying in any one particular horrible way, the odds are perpetually in our favor — a point we’d be wise to remember.
Unfortunately, our odds of dying overall remain one in one. I haven’t figured out a way around that yet, but I’m working on it.
David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.