School shootings show need for gun safety protocol during public events | Opinion

Screams of panic pierced the air at a football game at West Creek High in Clarksville, Tennessee in last August. Easily distinguished from the excitement of a touchdown, players on both sidelines dove to the ground.

Fans, fleeing, jumped out of bleachers and sprinted down the track. The unmistakable crack of gunshots halted yet another high school football game.

A mere 10 minutes later, in Groveport, Ohio, a teen fired an automatic pistol after being escorted out of a stadium. This appallingly commonplace scene repeats every weekend under the Friday Night Lights around the United States.

Every single weekend between August 13, 2021, and October 31, 2021, there was at least one shooting at a high school football game. Similar scenes played out in Georgia, Nevada, Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Texas and North Carolina last fall.

On Aug. 29, 2021, shootings ended three different high school games in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Nine people were wounded, and at Academy Park High outside of Philadelphia, an 8-year-old girl named Fanta Bility was killed.

Students, staff, and family members take shelter along with West Creek's football team after shots were fired outside West Creek's football stadium during a game against Northeast Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Clarksville.
Students, staff, and family members take shelter along with West Creek's football team after shots were fired outside West Creek's football stadium during a game against Northeast Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Clarksville.

Fanta was struck by a police officer’s bullet fired into the crowd during a fight. Police are often stationed at school football games without any training for handling large crowds or emergency plans for a shooting during the event. When three unprepared officers panicked at Academy Park High, the consequences were deadly.

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These events are not unique to 2021 based on the K-12 School Shooting Database. The outlook for 2022 is already bleak. In May at Palmetto High School in Florida, shots were fired during a fight on the sidelines during a spring game.

When the teens involved fled, police found two handguns. Two weeks prior, two men were shot during a fight at Louise A. Benton Middle in Virginia at a youth flag football tournament. The day before that, at McKee Middle in Pennsylvania, a parent fired shots during a fight on the sidelines.

Protocol is needed for shootings during public events

These shootings continue to happen because nobody is taking meaningful action to stop them. While the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas spurred hundreds of millions of federal dollars for ballistic doors and classroom panic buttons, a consistently overlooked tragedy is the most vulnerable and underprivileged kids facing proxy gunfire on the football field.

Many schools lack the resources, planning and training for a shooting during a public event. While kids everywhere in the country know how to "Run, Hide and Fight" from an active shooter, few schools have practiced for a shooting in the stands.

Even if kids at the school know the plan, what about parents and community members who attend the game?

If police officers are stationed at the gates, what do they do when shots ring out? The training and skills of a patrol officer are completely different from Secret Service agents who handle large crowds and special events every day.

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Without specialized training, officers in a venue with thousands of people can cause tragic disasters like the death of Fanta Bility.

Youth and high school football are cornerstones of American culture. The NFL, our nation’s $138 billion entertainment juggernaut, depends on young athletes learning the game.

For many Black and brown kids in low-income neighborhoods, aspiring to play professional sports is a pathway to success. Open-air gun violence seeding from gang, drug or street disputes doesn’t register as the same crisis and tragedy as a disturbed, violent individual rampaging a classroom during an indiscriminate massacre.

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This fallacy costs young students their lives and futures. A bullet wound is a bullet wound, regardless of where or why it was fired. The league, teams, sponsors and owners share a responsibility in making sure their future fans and players are protected.

Every NFL stadium is secure on game day. We must demand the same for the next generation of football players.

David Riedman is the founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, a national expert on school safety, and a Ph.D. student at the University of Central Florida studying criminal justice. 

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Gun safety protocol is needed for public events, like football games