Gun Violence: An Epidemic
Gun violence is an epidemic that has affected the United States for the past couple of decades. Since 2012, there have been, on average, nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year. We’re only three months into 2018 and 41 mass shootings have already occurred. Despite these disturbing statistics, there is still a contentious debate over gun control, with the NRA buying political power to block legislative efforts for gun restrictions and almost half of registered voters believing that protecting gun ownership is more important than limiting it. However, the need for gun control is critical as this health issue continues to threaten and claim the lives of children and adolescents--specifically those of color--and is turning educational spaces into virtual prisons.
In the years after the Columbine High school shooting in 1999, the culture of school security changed drastically, with schools utilizing more metal detectors, enacting mandatory active shooter drills, and developing the “Zero Tolerance” policy. After the Sandy Hook mass shooting which killed 20 elementary school children, the debate around gun control intensified once more, with talk about arming and training school teachers to disarm active shooters.
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting which claimed the lives of seventeen people, Florida lawmakers passed a 400 million dollar school security bill with new gun controls and 67 million dollars set aside for a school “guardian” program to train and arm school employees. This bill would also allow a teacher who “is a member of the U.S. Reserves or National Guard, in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, or is a current or former law enforcement officer” to carry concealed weapons onto school grounds. There is, of course, opposition against this program from Florida governor Rick Scott to teachers’ unions and educators. Governor Rick Scott instead proposes adding more school resource officers, one for every 1,000 students. The bill also sets aside funding for mental health first aid training and assistance. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school public safety act is the first piece of gun control legislation Florida lawmakers have passed in twenty years.
It suffices to say that the U.S. has seen more than its fair share of school shootings and mass shootings. However, instead of targeting the roots of the issue--our country’s overabundance of guns and conflicting state gun laws--we talk of upgrading school security and training school employees like soldiers in combat. Educators now have the additional and near impossible responsibility of identifying and stopping potential school shooters. Sure, there is also acknowledgement that the mental health care system in this country is broken and severely flawed, but it is a scapegoat. Guns are not responsible, it is people who are mentally ill. It’s important to note that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun violence than the perpetrators.
The conversation surrounding gun control has also neglected the impact of its proposed school security measures on students of color and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Schools with a population predominantly made up of students of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to implement formal policing measures like drug sniffing dogs, locked gates, and metal detectors. The Zero Tolerance policy has contributed to the school to prison pipeline as African-American students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled.
Gun violence should not elicit a reaction only when it starts to impact the children in gated communities of white neighborhoods. A child should not have to undergo the terrifying ordeal of an active shooter drill. An educator should not be expected to risk their lives and carry heat to protect students because the government will not. Young activists of color should not be demonized for protesting what the Parkland students have only started protesting only a few weeks ago. They have been ignored for too long because White America is afraid to take a long hard look at itself in the mirror. If active shooters are just “challenged” or mentally ill, then why don’t we see black women and girls shooting up schools or churches, since they have the least access to mental health resources? If active shooters are just social outcast victims, wouldn’t we see more of them and not just cis-white male shooters? What is even more necessary is for Americans to understand gun control is not just a debate about who gets to have guns and who doesn’t. Gun violence has impacted marginalized communities for years, like the schools in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods and in other lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, but has only now been bleeding out to the entire white page. We march to make our schools safer but we need to remember to march for everyone’s schools too.