UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 19: Washington, D.C., area students and supporters protest against gun violence with a lie-in outside of the White House on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

What if you were a young middle school child who was too afraid to attend school and get your education? Imagine sitting in a classroom every day, surrounded by bleeding control kits and posters that tell you how to avoid being killed by a gunman. Imagine being in a lock down and writing a note on your arm that is addressed to your own parents, telling them how much you love them because you believe you’re about to be killed. Why should children be led to be so frightened to attend school due to the mass shootings they hear about on the news? Why should parents fear sending their child away every single day, in what is supposedly a safe space for learning? Gun violence in our country is a big problem, and it affects more people than we think.

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America’s love for guns dates back to the 1850s. While constitutional monarchies like Britain or Denmark and republics like France and Italy disarmed their citizens in return for public safety, Americans rebelled. J.M. Opal, an Associate Professor of History at McGill University, stated that “Many colonial slave-owners became rebels only when they decided that the British Crown threatened their ‘sovereign’ right to dominate their labour force.” Despite losing the Civil War, Klansmen denied laws that gave Black Americans protection. Western vigilantes also saw violence as a citizen’s right against Indigenous peoples and Mexicans. American independence and ruthlessness created a culture of violence towards minorities that plagues American society to this day (Opal). “The AR-15 thus becomes ‘America’s Rifle.’ The slaughter of innocents becomes ‘the price of freedom.’… Americans must rediscover themselves as a revolutionary people who are not afraid to start over.” (Opal). Opal continues by stating that the NRA, while being supported and funded by powerful gun companies, contributes to the US violent culture.[¹] By lobbying behind them on the campaign trail, the NRA keeps conservative and pro-gun officials in office for several years and abets in gun related violence. The NRA also vouches for violence towards those who have voiced their opinions against white supremacy.[²]

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The CDC Wonder database shows that in the US in 2017 there were 39,773 gun related deaths, which represents a total of 12 deaths per 100,000 people. Compared to that of Japan with 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people, 0.3 in the UK, 0.9 in Germany and 2.1 in Canada, America seems to be the odd one out.[³] A 14 year old girl named Granville from New Orleans wrote her story about how gun violence has affected her life. “On the morning of October 3 while I was studying for a Geography test, I got the news. My dad been shot outside our house and was in critical condition. I couldn’t believe it. My dad, who believed in rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina… my dad, who is the nicest guy I have ever met….my dad, who played with me in a tennis tournament with just two weeks ago… had been shot?” Granville felt a combination of fear of losing her father and anger at the injustice of what happened to her and to teenagers all across the US. She persists, “Now my goal is to make this city – and every city in the nation – safe for everyone.”[]

The solutions to some of these problems are simple: 1. Require laws on assault weapons in every state. 2. Restrictions on private gun sales. 3. Always require a permit to buy any gun anywhere. 4. Enforce gun control and make laws stricter for criminal gun actions. 5. Stricter and deeper background checks that go as far as instances of domestic violence and questionable ideologies on public social media. 6. Social platforms and media sites, such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Tumblr, 4chan and Reddit, should monitor and disallow alt-right, conspiracy and reactionary content; as well as targeting fascists’ ability to have a platform and recruit. 7. Create a gun buyback program similar to that of Australia’s. Most of these solutions come down to the same topic, gun control.

First off, requiring laws on assault weapons in every state will help ensure that the weapon is not being used for wrongdoings. Putting restrictions on private gun sales will ensure the legality of the weapon, and ensures that a responsible person is obtaining the weapon as well. Making permits necessary to buy and gun anywhere will ensure the buyer has had sound and in-depth background checks, including that of their social media and legal history. Requiring some sort of gun safety lesson to obtain a permit will ensure that the owner knows how to be responsible with their weapon. If you look at other countries that have chosen strict gun laws, or even other states, the amount of gun violence is well different. In a UNODC sourced Small Arms Survey collected by Simon Rogers for The Guardian, its shown that America has 6 times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany (Rogers).[]

America has 4.4% of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world at 644 million (Rogers). []

Using data gained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mother Jones discovered that states with more guns have more gun deaths in 2013. Over 60% of adults in Alaska owned a gun and there were 20 gun deaths per 100,000 residents in one year. Whereas in Rhode Island, less than 10% of adults own guns and there were only 6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents (Jones). []

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant murdered 35 people with his AR-15 and wounded 18 others in Port Arthur, Australia. Clifton Leaf for Fortune writes that only weeks after the incident, elected officials banned semi-automatic and other military-grade weapons throughout the country, including prohibiting the import of said weapons (Leaf). The lawmakers also introduced a gun buyback program funded by a Medicare tax, which worked in getting many Australians to freely give up their powerful weapons (Leaf). Since then, there were no more mass killings for the next 22 years, until a University student in Melbourne killed 2 people and wounded 5 others with six equipped handguns. Another National Handgun Agreement was passed and lawmakers added a separate buyback act and a new gun trafficking policy. There have been no mass shootings in Australia since (Leaf).[]

Second, allowing background checks on social media is an important factor in ensuring that weapons are not used to cause harm to other people. Taking into account past crimes, such as hate crimes and/or domestic violence are also important. If you look at the history of most mass shooters, you will notice a pattern of misogyny and general violence towards people they do not agree with. For example, Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman who killed over two dozen members of the First Baptist Church in Texas in 2017, had a less than fortunate history. On Facebook he would post misogynistic remarks, such as a status that said: “So many sluts on fb. Don’t pretend you didn’t know your hooters were showing in your pics. Especially if it’s every pic. That’s called a slut. And if this offends you, your prolly one of them.”[] The Washington Post stated that Kelley was also sentenced to a year in prison and was eventually removed from the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child, to the point of fracturing the toddler’s skull. Kelley was also a known animal abuser and was charged with a misdemeanor count of mistreatment, neglect or cruelty to animals in 2012. In 2014, he was charged with animal cruelty for repeatedly beating a dog. Four witnesses say he yelled at and chased down a brown husky before beating it with both fists in his head and chest. Devin Kelley was still allowed to purchase a Ruger AR-556, a military grade assault-rifle despite his past of domestic violence (Rosenberg, Hawkins, Tate).[¹⁰]

Branda Woldridge (left) and Meredith Cooper embrace at a memorial outside the church.
Taken by Mark Ralston

Finally, it is very important for social platforms and media sites, such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Tumblr, 4chan and Reddit, to monitor and disallow alt-right, conspiracy and reactionary content; as well as targeting fascists’ ability to have a platform and recruit. At age 16 a girl named Lindsay Souvannarath began conversing with an artist who also happened to be a neo-Nazi on the popular blogging site, Tumblr. When she followed the artist she was exposed to the beliefs contained in the neo-Nazi’s artwork, and so began her gateway into meeting other Nazis. She called her blog “Cockswatica” and covered it in fascist imagery and beliefs. She eventually found herself in a group of people who called themselves Columbiners, people who idealize Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and follow their ideologies. She came in contact with 19 year old James Gamble who also called himself a Columbiner on Tumblr. Mack Lamoureux for Vice shared that the two planned to see each other and commit a mass shooting. “On February 14, 2015, they would go to the area of the food court of the Halifax Shopping Centre, and throw Molotov cocktails. Next, Gamble and Ms. Souvannarath would indiscriminately shoot whoever was there, with a lever action .308 hunting rifle, and a single action 16 gauge shotgun…Their intention was to inflict as many casualties as their ammunition would allow.” While Lindsay was arrested at the airport and James had killed himself after police entered his home, this was the first case that forced us to understand online radicalization and extreme ideologies and subcultures in the worst way possible (Lamoureux).[¹¹] Even though their plans were stopped by a Crime Stoppers tip, social media still gave neo-Nazis a platform to share their views where children could see and eventually become terrorists.

Some might argue that owning a gun is their 2nd Amendment right, however this amendment was written far before automatic weapons were created and does not, nor should it, take them into account. Some might argue that mentally ill people are the real problem, not guns. Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville said “It makes sense that after a mass shooting, people look for answers to explain what happened, like mental illness and terrorism… As we learn more about mass shootings, we learn that the stories are far more complicated.” After Omar Mateen shot up a  nightclub in Orlando, killing 50 people and wounding 53 others on June 12 in 2016, Metzl began researching through data for 40 years. He came to the conclusion that less than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people with mental illness (Metzl). Metzl also found that the mentally ill were more likely to be victims, he said “You’re more likely to be attacked by other people, more likely to be shot. You’re odd. You’re a target.” (Metzl).[¹²]

Some might argue that arming school teachers and school security guards, or increasing the number of guns will stop gun violence, but that is not possible. Nearly 100 years worth of data states that this is not true. John Donohue, a Stanford Law School professor, “analyzed crime data from 1977 to 2014… and discovered that states that have enacted right-to-carry (RTC) concealed handgun laws have experienced higher rates of violent crime than states that did not adopt those laws.” says Michelle Gorman for U.S. Newsweek.[¹³] Our very own president, Donald Trump, suggests arming teachers as a solution to increase school safety. While it seems like the correct idea to many, not even the hired officers and armed security guards in high schools could not put a stop to the shootings when they occurred. If someone tasked with the job of protecting students cannot stop this from happening, how should an under trained and underpaid teacher? It needs to be prevented, not stopped in progress. Some might also argue that people will still find a way to illegally obtain guns. With the way our legislation is now, it is very easy for an irresponsible person to retrieve a gun, but if we were to create stricter laws, like those mentioned previously, and enforce those laws, it would certainly not be easy to obtain a weapon.

Flags fly at half-staff around the Washington Monument at daybreak in Washington with the U.S. Capitol in the background on June 13, 2016. President Barack Obama ordered flags lowered to half-staff to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
Taken by J. David Ake.

To reiterate, it is not acceptable for us as a country to allow our children to be too frightened to show up to school everyday. It is not acceptable for us as a country to allow so much violence in our streets and homes. We as Americans need to take a good, long look at how we’ve let our country’s gun violence numbers rise every single year, however avoidable it may be.

A mourner holds up an American flag and a candle during a vigil for a fatal shooting at an Orlando nightclub, on June 12, 2016, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Taken by David Goldman.