The Burdens of the Back: A Call Against Gun Violence

When we’re younger and unencumbered by social structures, our curiosity is often met by some action that elicits further exploration. Imagine: you’re six years old, walking on the sidewalk, careful to not step on any of the cracks, because we all know what happens if you step on a crack. Your attention now directs itself to a weed growing in between the gap of the sidewalk. And mind you, this weed is accompanied by a particularly outstanding dandelion, so anything that you were doing before now becomes moot. When you bend down to take a closer look at your subject, you notice nature’s way of carefully placing the petals in a certain arrangement that you are now committed to detailing in your next art class project. As you’re now bending down on the pavement with your eyes fixed on this dandelion, your mind is elsewhere: your teacher is going to be so  proud when she sees that you drew the most beautiful and realistic dandelion she has ever seen in her whole entire life. In dreamily thinking about your success, something breaks the fixation of your eyes as it crosses your visual path: an ant. It doesn’t seem to have much direction, and you wonder which place the ant lives. You scramble around looking for other ants. Where are its friends? Friends...friends...ant friends. You’re really racking your mind here, but you can’t seem to find any other ants. This would have been a much simpler task if you had an ant farm like your teacher. The the ant could just join other ants and make cool tunnels together. Now you’re thinking about how cool ants are and everything you learned about them in class that day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

With some reflection, I agree with that six-year-old, hypothetical self: ants are indeed pretty cool. In the Journal of Biomechanics, researchers report that “the neck joint of a common American field ant can withstand pressures up to 5,000 times the ant’s weight.” That’s insane compared to what a regular human back. However, we tend to discredit what the human back can hold. Though ants have crazy strong properties in proportion to their own weight, there needs to be more of an appreciation for what our backs do for us in our lifetimes. 

Though, as humans, we should not carry more than 15% of our own body weight, as recommended by many doctors and physicians, we manage piggyback rides at public parks, yoga poses featuring baby goats, and overstuffed backpacks with the anticipation of a sooner-than-expected pop quiz. 

woman reading book while seating

Here's another thing: I’m dismayed with how much more elementary schoolers are expected to carry in comparison to what I did when I was their age. Not only are the pressures of performance in school seeping down to the grade school level, but that requires much more of their little backs—exceeding the 15% recommendation. This makes the backpack selection process much more of a task than an activity. When I was younger, the backpack selection process was much different, and arguably simpler. You want a huge rainbow printed peace sign on your backpack? You got it! Want to show that you are cooler than everyone with your love for Optimus Prime? No problem. Are you hooked on the magical land of Barbie and enjoy her wide array of conquests? Her face will be on your backpack every single day. And if you wanted to be a little extra: you could add a keychain from a family vacation or a charm—your own little touch. 

But, selecting a backpack now is much more strategic. You’ve got to consider every aspect, because your backpack says a lot about you. It’s a statement that is sure to last at least a year and the statements vary person to person. If your aiming for one that says “I’m cute and have money to blow” you can get one of those tiny ones with the fox logo and difficult-to-pronounce Sweedish name. If you want to say “I’m studious and stylish” you’re probably a Herschel type of person. If you want to say “I’m about sports all day, everyday” Nike or Adidas.

And then there’s a series of statements that might lead you in another direction. Maybe something along the lines of “I want to live,” “I want to see my family again,” or “I deserve a future” you’re most definitely going for a bulletproof backpack in that case. Instead of going for a charm of a keychain, you’ll be looking for inserts -- inserts as in padding. Not only do elementary schoolers carry books, but because legislators across the nation have refused to act, they also carry the burden of their entire lives when they go to school each day. For them, the government does not protect, it impedes and in turn, their left to their own devices. 

We have become so desensitized to violence, but we must not forget. Don’t forget Sandy Hook. I was in the sixth grade when it happened. I remember after that, the classrooms that had small plates of glass on the doors, allowing a principal or parent visitors to peek in—those were covered with black construction paper for security. In addition to that, they implemented faster ways to lock doors, and ran drills with us regularly, telling us that our silence would save our lives. 

Even at 12 years old, I knew that hiding from your problems is not going to solve them. Although I did not know how to describe the issue at the time, I knew that it was institutional. I knew that all the precautions that my school was taking to keep us safe was not their responsibility. It is not the responsibility of a first grader with a special backpack or an educator with a pen. I knew that there was someone who had greater power than my sixth grade teacher that could do something about Sandy Hook. And I thought that they might have. 

In America, our rhetoric following conversations about children always yields to the future. They tell us students that we are the future. And yet they show us that they don’t believe in one for us. Through the inaction of the legislature, we are told that our lives mean nothing. We are told to figure it out on our own—to buy a bulletproof backpack and to buy inserts, to hide when threatened—to remain silent. The only response for some governments was to put the same weapon that compromises the lives of young students in the hands of their nearest protector and counselor: a teacher. 

Even at 12 years old, I knew that more guns in more hands equals more violence. I could imagine the children of Sandy Hook: the terror in their hearts and the tears in their eyes. Their last utterances must’ve been whispers filled with declarations of fear. Their little bodies drained of blood, and just like that, the future became cold. 

When you’re huddled in a corner, with all your peers, in absolute fear for your life, it’s hard to pretend that a sheet of black construction paper and a plate of glass will separate you from a bullet. 

 And now, even at 18 years old, I know that getting shot in school has not been established as a matter of if, it is when. So what gives me most anguish in discussing this topic is how can it so easily be deemed inconsequential to state representatives when deciding how to govern? It lies with the government to protect the people from harm, to govern with the knowledge & duty that others’ lives are in their domain of work. 

Though incredibly strong, the human back should not have to carry the threat of its life being put in jeopardy if there is a way to mitigate the issue in a sustainable, legislative manner. In light of the many mass shootings we are experiencing in the United States—specifically in educational institutions,spheres that are supposed to be safe, petri dishes for interpersonal growth and enlightenment—we are not to feel the direct, harmful effects of governmental negligence. I am not telling you to think more critically about your backpack selection each school year. I am urging you to march for our lives, speak up for our lives, and eradicate the need to see a backpack as a pressing life investment. Silence does not save our lives, it puts us at risk.