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Effects on the younger generation

May 31, 2023

The problem of gun violence seems to be disproportionately affecting youth as well, with gun violence now being the top cause of death for teens and children. Gun violence surpasses prior top causes like car accidents, cancer and poisoning. This concerning trend has been reflected in these recent shootings, with the oldest victim being 20 and the youngest being just six.  

The U.S. has a gun homicide rate among young people that is 49 times higher than other developed nations. Additionally, three to four Americans under the age of 18 are murdered with a firearm every day, and about one in five students in the U.S. have seen violence first-hand.

Why young people are experiencing gun violence at such high rates can be attributed to children being more vulnerable and having less life experience, which may lead to simple mistakes like the one’s made by Ralph Yarl or Payton Washington. This, combined with running into the wrong person by accident, leads to horrific incidents of gun violence.

Despite being so highly affected by gun violence, young people are becoming increasingly desensitized to gun violence. As mass shootings become an epidemic in the United States, many teenagers aren’t even aware of all the horrific tragedies occurring in their nation, or worse, don’t care.

“[When shootings are brought up, students say] ‘what shootings?’ We’ve talked about a few [of the shootings] here and there in class, and it comes back to being aware of your surroundings; that’s what I’ve said to my students,” Sachtleben said. “Unfortunately, it’s getting to be like this, but [there is] safety in numbers, and students need to be aware of their surroundings.”  

But students are hardly to blame for their ignorance of the subject. When new shootings and victims grace headlines daily, it can be difficult to take an interest in every single one.  Even though it’s necessary for young people to care about each and every horrific killing that occurs, this can result in burnout.  

Much of the reason burnout is occurring so often in students is that there is little students can do about this because they can’t vote since it is clear that gun control  — or lack thereof — is the most significant factor in the rising violence

Even though 63% of young Americans favor stricter gun control, little legislation has been passed since the 1994 assault rifle ban passed under the Clinton administration, which saw positive short-term effects on not only the number of mass shootings but also the number of fatalities in mass shootings until its expiration in 2004.

Legislative control on guns is necessary to do anything to curb gun violence, but specifically needed is legislature responding to the problem of illegally possessed guns. 

At least 40% of guns used for crimes are possessed illegally. Tightening accessibility to guns can lessen the amount of gun-related injuries and deaths. In the same light, limiting “ghost guns,” or unserialized and untraceable guns purchased online, can also lessen these related injuries and deaths. Ghost guns are typically purchased one component at a time and then, once assembled, function as a traditional gun. There are currently no federal regulatory laws on ghost guns.

Another major factor is that legally purchased guns may be passed onto people who would not regularly pass a gun background check. This completely defeats the purpose of gun background checks, which is to ensure that anyone deemed unfit to own a gun cannot buy one. This entails checking criminal history, mental health records or drug use. When guns are given as gifts or sold at garage sales, it is impossible to stop guns from getting into the hands of potentially dangerous people. This has shown to be a major issue in gun violence, as 54% of guns used in crime were originally obtained legally before being used illegally.  

Additionally, gun control restricting the legal purchase of firearms is especially necessary, as a study done on the 1994 assault rifle ban found that an assault weapons ban would have prevented 314 out of 448 or 70% of the mass shooting deaths during the years when the ban was not in effect. In addition, the same study showed the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37% and that the number of people dying because of mass shootings fell by 43%. 

This is true for large-capacity magazines (LCMs) as well. A study of state gun laws concluded that bans on LCMs are associated with 38% fewer fatalities and 77% fewer nonfatal injuries in mass shootings.

The necessity of bans on certain types of guns is clear, especially when you compare the U.S. to other countries with high gun ownership, like Switzerland. Despite also having a high gun ownership rate — though not as high as the United States — there has not been a mass shooting since 2001. This is because of their gun laws; citizens of Switzerland are not permitted to own automatic weapons, silencers or heavy machine weapons, which according to Business Insider, is correlated to extremely low levels of mass shootings.

“[These shootings] make me feel upset because they feel like something that could [have] been prevented. It feels like something that if young people were taught more, and if we had more regulations in place, it could be something that didn’t have to happen,” junior Emily McCarthy said.

Amid this epidemic of gun violence, it’s important to remain empathetic towards others and acknowledge that many students may have different reactions to the recent shootings. As a student, it’s important to stay informed, be aware, not assume the worst and be considerate of others during this time of heightened shootings. (Ashlyn Gillepsie)

Despite over 13,900 people being killed by gun violence in 2023, Democrats and Republicans are still harshly divided over gun control, and the debate is becoming increasingly polarized. The excuse that gun control is a political issue is dangerous and harmful to our society. By marking gun control as a ‘left’ versus ‘right’ battle, we are refusing to deal with the real issues and consequences of a lack of gun control. 

“It seems pretty clear to me that if mass shootings are happening all the time, that’s bad and that shouldn’t be political,” Hopkins said. 

Despite students’ inability to modify gun laws or legislation, we must do what we can and protect ourselves through self-awareness.

“The person who shot Ralph was in his late 80s, so I feel the fact that it’s [disproportionately affecting young people] is sad and disappointing. I also [feel] like I need to watch what I’m doing even if it’s common sense [not to shoot]. You make mistakes as a teenager, [but] I need to be more aware when I [make mistakes] because it can be anybody who is having a bad day,” Wilson said.

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