By Bryce Dawkins
“You never know when you won’t get another opportunity to kiss that little cheek.”-Scarlett Lewis, mother of Jesse, age six, who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting
December 14, 2012: gunman Adam Lanza carries an AR-15 rifle into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murders twenty six people. Twenty children screamed for their lives and ran into their classroom closets for cover. Twenty children never got to say goodbye to their families. Teachers placed themselves between the gunman and the schoolchildren, trying to protect them. Six were murdered.
The shooting at Sandy Hook shocked the nation, but unfortunately school shootings in American schools have a long history, and have continued to take young lives and innocent hearts in the years following 2012. With the many lives lost to gun violence in American schools, our nation is asking with greater and greater urgency, how can this be stopped?
Personal Interest: Why I chose school shootings as my topic
Ever since I was a child, I have been filled with fear and empathy every time I see a report of school violence on television news. I wanted to play and be friends with the innocent, young children I saw on television who had suffered the loss of their friends, siblings, and teachers. I remember fearing that violence could occur at my own school. Over the years, as I have learned more about the causes of school shootings, my reaction has shifted from fear to frustration and anger. I have grown from thinking only of the aftermath of school shootings, to wanting to know more and more how I as an individual can help prevent school shootings before they occur. This research project has given me guidance as to how I can make change. I am frustrated with the lack of gun control reform in our country, and I want to turn my frustration into action. I want to believe that I—that we, can bring an end to school violence in the future.
How Much Do You Know About Gun Violence In American Schools?
A broader look at the history of gun control in the United States
The effort to control the number and types of weapons in America has been ongoing for eighty five years. National gun control legislation in the United States began with the passing of the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, a piece of legislation which “stands as a stark rebuke to the most sacred precepts of the gun lobby,” and which enabled the first taxation and regulation requirements to be placed on various firearms, including shotguns, silencers, rifles, and machine guns. Many acts were passed in the years which followed the NFA, focused on monitoring gun sales and prohibiting the acquisition of firearms. In the last decade, former President Barack Obama made curtailing gun violence a priority at the time of his election. Obama called upon congress to enact legislation which would implement universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Obama also advocated for legislation publicly, in a series of campaign style events, despite vehement opposition by gun rights supporters. With the election of Donald Trump, there have been proposals for the improvement and strengthening of background checks. Trump has expressed his wish for future background checks, and appears to support universal checks that would apply to private and gun show sales of firearms. It is my hope that new legislation will continue to reduce gun violence in the future. As citizens, we must join our political leaders in the fight for effective gun control legislation. Together, we must bring change for future generations and work to dramatically reduce gun violence in our nation, and particularly in our schools.
Current Problem: Focusing on gun violence in American schools
On April 20, 1999, gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School in Colorado. Harris and Klebold killed thirteen innocent students and teachers before turning their guns on themselves. Only thirteen years later, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut with an AR-15 rifle, two semi automatic pistols, a shotgun, and a mission. Since Columbine and Sandy Hook, there have been close to two hundred and ninety school shootings in the United States. In examining these cases, authorities have discovered previously unnoticeable patterns. Many school shooters in recent years have been young white males who often have experienced emotional trauma through bullying or an abusive home life. In the Columbine shooting, for example, the perpetrators belonged to a group of social outcasts, and some have speculated that the shooting was a method of retaliation for bullying they had endured. Many school shooters have been under the age of twenty one at the time of their crime, and have often obtained their firearms illegally. There have been multiple cases of young school shooters stealing their parent’s firearms or receiving firearms from illegal suppliers. In the Columbine shooting, Klebold received the firearms he and Harris used from older friends, who legally purchased the guns at two separate gun shows. The patterns that have appeared in various school shootings give authorities a better chance to intervene and stop these tragedies. The issue of gun violence within American schools has reached a new level of importance in our country, and it is my hope that with new voices being heard, and ideas being shared, great changes lie ahead.
Take Action: How can you create change?
Seventeen people are wounded. Seventeen people are dead. Among them, fourteen are children. It only lasted six minutes: the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. In 2018, along with Stoneman Douglas, there were twenty four school shootings in America. Despite the catastrophes of 2018, guns rights groups, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), continue to challenge our nation’s advocates of new gun legislation to prevent violence in schools. However, gun control advocates have been fighting against groups like the NRA for years, with recent data showing that “gun control measures passed [are] overtaking pro-gun measures for the first time in at least six years” (Lopez). The passing of gun control measures is only one of many imperative steps our nation must take to reduce gun violence in schools. Building off of this progress, how can our nation make change to terminate school shootings for good?
In order to stop gun violence in schools, our nation must bring about change both individually among our citizens, and nationally as a society. On a small scale level, people must educate themselves on the issue before educating others. Gun violence cannot be combatted until students, parents, and teachers discuss methods which may strengthen the safety of their own communities. One vital concern which must be addressed is the lack of mental health support among teenagers. Many American school shooters have been teenagers who, feeling isolated and angry, decided to take the lives of their classmates as revenge. America’s schools need counselors, resources, and outlets for students who may be struggling. It is also very important for students’ friends to speak up if they have reason to be concerned for the safety of themselves or others. Had friends of students similar to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine school shooters, voiced their concerns, those troubled individuals could have received the help they needed in place of inhumane rebellion.
Gun violence in schools must also be tackled on a national and societal front; America needs more effective gun control legislation to address violence in schools. There are multiple areas in the nation’s legislation which require attention and formation: an increase in the age limit to purchase a gun, stricter requirements for background checks, personalized lock devices on guns, more thorough gun storage requirements, the banning of assault weapons, and the removal of guns from those unfit to carry them. All of these changes must be enacted to ensure that guns stay out of American schools in the future. With a personalized lock on his father’s shotgun and revolver, Dimitrios Pagourtzi would not have taken the lives of ten students at his high school in Santa Fe, Texas (Sanchez). With the ban of assault weapons, Nikolas Cruz would not have had access to the AR-15-style rifle he used to take seventeen lives at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Jansen). While there is no simple way to cease gun violence in schools, by implementing mandatory acts, laws, and regulations into America’s gun control legislation, we can improve the safety of our schools for the future.