April 2018: Youth Activists Fighting For A Safe Education; Gun Violence In American Schools

Gun violence has impacted the education and lives of countless American students over the last few decades. This year alone, students have endured a shooting every month, with increasing numbers of schoolchildren murdered. However, these students are standing together in a new war on gun laws; they are calling for change in America. Firearm ownership has been seen as a basic human right in America under the Second Amendment. However, when is it time to move past traditional ideas of American freedoms? Other countries allow citizens to also bear arms, but under specific terms and conditions, with strict rules and thorough vetting systems.

The turning point for youth activists on this issue became apparent in late February, following the Florida high school shooting. A group of students from all areas of the school stood together. This lead to a new alliance, unlike any other seen in this era, between students nationwide, attracting mass attention and awareness for their cause. This led to the Never Again campaign, spreading like wildfire across the nation’s schools and resulting in a new wave of activism. As a result of this campaign, attention has been transferred to the victims and students, their suffering, and the impact these gun laws are having on their education. This recentralization of public attention onto the gun law issue has provided a foothold for Democrats and anti-firearms parties to further support this push for a change in gun laws.

However, what impact can a group of students have on centuries of firearms freedom? Time and again the Democratic Party has called for gun laws, stricter gun licensing, and restrictions on firearm usage, yet they have failed time and again. This displays the trigger freedom many Americans hold dearly, and their unwillingness to relinquish this ‘right.’ However, what does this mean for this latest gun reform cause?

Previous attempts to tame gun laws have failed due to strong resistance from the American gun-owning community. Their arguments have consistently surrounded the idea of gun ownership as a right, a personal decision, and a freedom which enables them to defend themselves. However, at what point does their freedom come before the safety and security of others? One person may receive security and peace of mind by carrying a gun, but what about the others in the room? One gun in the hands of somebody who is angry, upset, or unaware of how it works is a danger to every other person in that room, even if the gun-owner believe it is only there to serve the purpose of providing them with personal security. This reflects the ideas of positive and negative freedom: the freedom to have or do something versus the freedom not to.

As the right to own guns is a part of the United States Constitution, pro-firearm advocates have the upper hand in this battle. Historically, this section of the constitution enabled the people to form a militia and rebel in an organized manner to defend themselves against the government and prevent unjust rule. However, in the modern context, the right to bear arms has evolved into citizens owning semi-automated weapons that they can carry around in public to use at their disposal with insufficient, if any, consequences.

The youth activists have further added to the tension of this issue, as they have given a voice to the future generation of leaders in their country. They are showing their generation that it is okay to stand against laws which impact their lives for the worse. Furthermore, it is showing current leaders and older citizens a different perspective from their current norm. This uprising is also encouraging these leaders to be more open to change, while drawing on their sympathy for the lives lost every month in school shootings and mass shootings. They are posing the question is it worth it?  while pushing a more innocent agenda from a relatable, humanist perspective, not one riddled with the alternative agendas a political campaign would impose.

The nature of this issue poses a difficult problem that lacks a simple solution. While the youth of America are leading and participating in campaigns to evolve the gun laws in America, their efforts alone cannot fix this problem. This issue could be solved more successfully by breaking down solutions into separate parts to counter opposition, educate people, and eliminate these issues as much as possible. Four key areas are education, restriction, modification and, for a period, transition.

Arguably, education is the key element in this process. In order to solve a problem, it needs to be understood, defined, and discussed. Without acknowledging this issue as a nation, there will continue to be deep-seated opposition to changing gun laws in America. Within this first area of the education stage, attention should be drawn to understanding why these laws need to evolve. However, the focus should not only be on educating schoolchildren. As demonstrated by the youth activists of America, the younger generations are not neglecting this issue. Rather, it is the older generations who have grown to view these laws as their right, rather than a potential issue.  The second area of education is political and constitutional education, which leads to the modification phase. In order to modify these gun laws, politicians must agree upon what is constitutionally stipulated. The constitution’s Second Amendment declaring the American right to bear arms must be further evaluated and defined. This definition then needs to be universally explained and understood in order to effectively set the stage for change. Without redefining the Second Amendment, the people and government are left with the option to personally interpret or misunderstand what is implied, creating room for disagreement that could undermine any progress on this issue.

The next phase is to increase restrictions. The first type of restriction that could be introduced is firearm type. At present, there is an Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) in many areas of America. However, there are many exceptions to this rule: if the weapon is licensed or an extra tax is paid by the registered owner, for example, assault weapons can be owned. AWBs must then be further enforced, with the complete elimination of civilian possession of automated or semi-automated weaponry. Secondly, more comprehensive vetting and licensing laws should be introduced. Many school or mass shootings occur at the hands of licensed citizens with registered weapons who have chosen to abuse their right to firearms. Thirdly, weapon-free zones need to be introduced and heavily enforced. These areas should include public places such as schools, hospitals, malls, parks, and so on.

The third phase is modification. In conjunction with weapon-free zones, the presence of security and armed law enforcement could be increased in these areas. This increase in official weapons-carriers would compensate for the decreased security individuals may feel from the new restrictions on private gun ownership. This also helps protect the public by discouraging lawbreakers or ‘lone-wolves.’  A second recommended modification is creating “gun zones,” locations like shooting ranges and hunting regions, where weapons can be used and carried freely in a safe, monitored environment. This allows hobbyists to continue participating in their sports, while also encouraging safe gun usage. This type of system reflects the liberal gun laws in Switzerland, where firearms are legal only at shooting ranges, and are to remain onsite to prevent issues occurring in the general public.

The fourth area to address is the transition phase. As part of the transition phase, modifications should be available to the citizens who possess weapons that become outlawed or further restricted. Furthermore, turn-over stations could also provide the opportunity for proper disposal of personal weapons without consequence. In conjunction to this, the increased ability to have weapons stored in secured shooting facilities decreases the presence of firearms in day-to-day life. Finally, current gun licenses should be reassessed to combat potential threats to the security of the greater community.

It is important to note that these recommendations are in regard to general public firearm possession, while acknowledging that some people would require exceptions not addressed above. These include factors relating to farming, isolated living, and other lifestyle choices that may be defined or viewed as exceptional to such rules.

Youth activism regarding American gun laws symbolizes a movement in the positive direction for the future. These youth are taking a stand against the atrocities they are forced to endure and the senseless deaths of countless young innocents. However, changing these laws also falls to current leaders, adults, and the American people as a whole. This issue must be addressed in order to eliminate school shootings and mass shootings in the United States and to restore a level of security to its citizens more consistent with the standards upheld in the developed world.

Emy-Lee Rogers
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