My first time
I can still remember my first conscious memory with a school shooting. It was the summer of 2016, and I was getting ready to graduate from high school. In fact, it was the day before graduation, and I was preparing, with all the other seniors, how we were going to walk the stage. I felt my phone vibrate, and I looked down and saw there was an active shooter on UCLA’s campus. I didn’t think too much about it until a few minutes later Facebook reminded me that a friend of mine—not a close friend, but a friend nonetheless—was at UCLA for graduate school. I immediately became more worried, scared, and anxious about the entire situation. I texted him and thankfully found out within the hour that he was ok and off campus.
However, my situation pales in comparison to what is felt by, unfortunately, hundreds of parents every year that have to deal with the emotional trauma, mental stress, and general anxiety caused by school shootings—and by extension, the loose laws surrounding gun ownership and gun exchanges.
It must end here
Creating this video was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in a while. Having to go through the footage inside of the Columbine High School cafeteria and see the moment where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered, started shooting, and everyone scattered to the floor was terrifying. Listening to the 9-1-1 distress calls from teachers inside Sandy Hook Elementary School screaming at their kids to get under tables while trying to hold it together for the operator was something I never want to listen to again. Finally, seeing all the news footage from the San Bernardino North Park Elementary shooting, watching parents do nothing but break down and cry as they wait for their child, who might never leave that school. And it only exhibits a minuscule selection of school shootings. There are hundreds more outside of the three that I presented here. But they can be stopped.
A history of being ok
While it may have only been in the past five or so years that gun control, especially in schools, has been a topic of national debate, school shootings have been occurring for over 100 years. Yet, since 1980, 297 people have been killed as a result of school shootings (via Slate). Columbine was 13 victims, Virginia Tech was 32 victims, and Sandy Hook was 27 victims, including 20 children, not even 12 years old. However, there’s more to this story. Each decade has more shootings—and more victims—than the previous. In fact, this chart that Slate created ends at 2012. There are still more years to account for. In fact, Everytown.org, starting in 2013, conducted research into gunfire in schools. What they found was shocking.
Everytown.org found that 160 qualifying incidents for their report, “including fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides, and unintentional shootings” that resulted in 59 deaths and 124 injuries. This was over three years. Not 35. And while some of these are from completely accidental incidents, that still reveals a larger problem—guns should not be allowed on any campus, college or elementary, and should not be in the hands of anyone under 21. With campuses all over the United States in states with open carry laws, students go to class possibly scared of anyone around them, and teachers have no idea when, at any time, a student could walk in and hurt innocent people.
The research revealed even more. The shootings were almost evenly split between K-12 schools and colleges or universities, with the majority (95) from either category being intentional, where the shooter went after a specific target or targets. However, focusing in on K-12 schools illustrates another point. Between 2013 and 2015, an average of two school shootings took place at K-12 schools each month. In the shootings at these K-12 schools where the age of the shooter was released, 56% were committed by minors. This means that either their parents’ guns were not kept locked up at home, or they were somehow able to obtain a gun through a gun show, or more illegal means. In fact, a recent analysis found that a child brought a gun onto a school campus almost every day in one year (via The Trace) simply because they were not locked up at home.
However, what happens when the mentally ill have access to these types of weapons? Well, according to the New England Journal of Medicine both parties supported laws that prevent people with mental illnesses from owning guns, however, when it came to mental illness in general, both Democrats and Republicans expressed a neutral opinion. They agree on spending money to help treat mental illness especially in houses that own guns, but that was about it. This shows that there is still a wide need to reduce the stigma on mental illness and to institute gun-violence-prevention measures. The mentally ill are still not getting all the help they need, nor are they completely being prevented from owning guns that could harm others and themselves.
Now, the effect of all these shootings is varied from person to person, school to school, and state to state, but there are some general themes. For one, the news media is much more sensitive to any kind of firearm incident now than ever. This may account for the ability to do the kinds of the studies like Everytown did, but can also lead to two different scenarios. The first, and more hopeful situation, is that awareness is rising. With every shooting becoming a national incident that the president comments on, the country moves closer to supporting more and more restrictions on guns. The second scenario is less preferable than the first, however. It means that those who are thinking of committing an act like a school shooting see others like them getting the “celebrity treatment” and being almost paraded around. While more worrisome, there are always two sides to every sword.
The final impact that these shootings have had on students is more violent encounters. When guns are readily available for people to use, they typically do. In fact, about a quarter of shootings on college campuses occurred after a “confrontation or verbal argument intensified to gunfire.”
Well, there are many opinions on gun control, and each one has its own idea on how to prevent school shootings. However, if we want to change the rules on a national level, we must reach out to our national representatives. Flood their offices with letters, emails, calls, faxes, in whatever way you can contact them, and tell them to push as hard as they can for more gun control. Give police more power to search people for guns, and make sure people know how to handle a gun, are mentally stable, and most of all have the need for a gun.
While many people (especially those currently in government) believe that putting armed guards in schools and improving school security is the way to go, I disagree. Bringing in bigger guns to try and control guns will only bring a higher likelihood that someone will come into possession of a gun they aren’t supposed to have on a school campus.
Finally, improve mental care. Don’t assume that violent thoughts and aggression are a phase—address them immediately and make sure that children get the help they need. However, the most important thing we can do, besides letting the shooter die in anonymity or focusing on improving social skills, is understanding each other. We need to appreciate each other, and if you someone that needs help, whether it be with a bully at school or stress at home, say something. That’s how one person can turn all these tragedies to none.
Below are all the links I used throughout this article and the PSA video.