Last year my morning routine included 20 or so loud, kind, self-determined eighth graders smack dab in the middle of transitioning from children to young adults. As February approached, we spent more and more time test prepping and usually, I would snag a few from the chaotic classroom and into the more pleasant refuge of the library. This was usually accompanied by a lot of grumbling and take a few bribes of Taki’s to get my group going, but once we started it was usually a good time figuring out our science problems for the day in between snacks and talking about our days.
One day, when I pulled only one of my students, I noticed a lag in his steps and at first teased him to speed up. When I expected smart remarks, I only received heavy breathing and a small moan. We gradually walked into the library, deserted this morning. As I coaxed questions from him, I soon learned that my adult looking child student had been shot at least two times in his ankle.
This wasn’t the first time that my students had come in with gun related wounds. Some of our elementary schoolers missed a week of school after being shot in a drive by earlier that year. On another day one of my students tearfully told me that the night before her cousin had answered a door and received a bullet to her forehead by her children’s father. A month before school started Alton Sterling, a black man that some of them knew and called “Mr. Sterling,” was murdered by two police officers. And on, and on.
I don’t know what the answer is when it comes to gun violence. If I could blink three times and say “bibbidi bobbidi boop” I would have every gun disappear, but that’s obviously not an answer nor possible. Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, I’ve been trying to come up with one, find my opinion for the fix all, which I haven’t. But here is what I have found and what I do know:
On gun laws-
- The process to purchase and buy a gun is dependent by state laws. Here is a link where you can look into your state’s gun laws. For my current state, Louisiana, there are a few options for me to obtain a firearm. I can make a deal with a friend/neighbor/stranger, offer a fair price, and the gun is mine. Legally. The second way is for me to go to a store where I can purchase a rifle, shotgun, or handgun (in Louisiana I need a permit to carry a handgun, but can purchase one without it). They send my information to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for a record check which files through he FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System and shortly, I can leave the store with my most recent purchase.
- The AR-15, the gun that has been used at many mass shootings, is one of the most popular and easy to get. It was made as a lighter replica of the M-16, a military gun that is not available for civilian use. The original manufacturer created the AR-15 for military use.
- According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2013, there were between 5 million and 8.2 million assault weapons in circulation on the United States. However, after each mass shooting an increase in gun sales is seen- meaning that that number has likely increased. Since most state governments do not require long guns to be registered, there is no way to completely tell how many assault rifles are currently in circulation or where they area. AR-15’s, specifically, though a semi- automatic weapon, has the ability to become automatic with a kit (which can be purchased easily, in my research I came across a few), and can use a magazine with as many as 100 bullets, as seen in the Aurora and Las Vegas shootings in 2012 and 2017.
- According to the New York Times, since Sandy Hook in 2012 there have been over 239 school shootings; this study counted incidents where any number of people were injured or killed, not just four or more which defines a mass shooting. 438 people (educators, students, children) have been shot, 138 of whom were killed.
- In 2015, 3,519 women and girls were killed by homicide, making homicide the fifth leading cause for women between 18 and 44 in the US. Women are additionally 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the US than in any other developed nation.
On those who are responsible for mass shootings-
- One of the first things that I commonly see in response to shootings, regardless of the size, is to say that we need mental health reform and that the shooter was mentally ill. First, yes we desperately need better policies regarding mental health, but there has never been a found connection between mental health and shootings. Dr. James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, in response to these claims stated, “There’s not really a correlation, we like to think that these people are different from the rest of us. We want a simple explanation and if we just say they’re mentally ill, case closed. Because of how fearful dangerous and deadly their actions are, we really want to distance ourselves from it and relegate it to illness.”
- While mental illness has not been a link between shooters, there are some things that can link them together. One of these factors is a history of domestic violence. In an analysis performed by the gun-violence prevention group, Everytown for Gun Safety, it was found that between 2009 and 2017 “33% of shooters had a reported history of violence against women.” The same study additionally showed that between 2015 and 2017, in over 50% of mass shootings, one of the causalities included an intimate partner or family member.
- The final point I want to make about many of the mass shooters is what you can see by face value– between 1982 and 2015 over 64% of mass shootings have been committed by white men*. To compare, according to CNN, “black people committed close to 9%… while Asians were responsible for around 9%…”*I will never show pictures of those who commit murders because I refuse to glorify them. The Daily Wire wrote a really great article explaining more if anyone is interested!
This issue is huge, it isn’t a quick fix. We need to move our conversations forward from mental illness and start addressing the much less desired topic of toxic white masculinity. We need to dissect the messages we are sending our young boys about power, entitlement, and violence. We need to talk about access to guns and how we regulate and distribute them. We need to make it more difficult for people to purchase military weapons than to purchase a car/rent an apartment/buy a dog/watch a movie. We need reform. We need to decide if we care more about the thousands of children, men, and women that will continue to die if we continue to be idle on this topic. We need to love people more than guns.
Contact your congressmen.
Listen to survivors.