Opinion: Guns aren’t the problem, people are

June 20, 2022

Yet another shooting has taken place. Yet another shooting has taken place. Yet another shooting has taken place. It’s a sentence I could write every day, but on June 13, it happened at a children’s summer camp near Dallas, Texas. Though there were no injuries or deaths, the threat of gun violence still haunts the United States.  

Just before the summer camp shooting, in a speech on gun violence on Friday, June 3, President Joe Biden said that there have been 20 other mass shootings in the U.S. since the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

As a young adult who has grown up in a world of televised mass shootings, this information was numbing. 

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“According to new data just released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), guns are the number one killer of children in the United States of America,” Biden said in his speech. “Over the last two decades, more school-aged children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined.”

I have grown up with and been around guns for as long as I can remember. My dad had been taking my sister and me out to our countryside property with a little rifle and balloons for afternoons of target practice since we were old enough to handle a gun responsibly. 

However, we always had one rule above all else: no gun is a toy, so treat every gun as a loaded one.

This meant we were to never point guns at anything other than the balloons we were aiming at and, if we weren’t aiming at anything, the gun needed to be pointed at the sky or the ground. Additionally, we weren’t allowed to have our finger on the trigger unless we were ready to shoot and we had to always be aware of what was surrounding and behind the target so that we wouldn’t hit anything unintentionally. 

Violating these rules meant we would no longer be allowed to practice. 

My sister and I also took a hunter safety course, and even though I never really got into hunting, the course was an important and necessary step for us. From firearm safety rules my dad had already drilled in my head to survival skills I hope I’ll never have to use, I was prepared in every way I could to have a safe and responsible relationship with weapons and firearms. 

On top of all of the rules and training that we went through, the only time my sister and I ever had access to guns was under the supervision of our father. Any other time, they were locked away in a closet for which only my dad had the key. Even as a 20 year old, I still don’t know where the key is. 

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Because of these rules, I never had any fear of guns growing up. I still don’t fear guns, but on December 14, 2012, my relationship with guns began to change. 

I began to fear the people who have guns. 

I was in fifth grade when Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I remember walking into my writing class as our teacher sat us down with tears in her eyes while she told us what had happened. I remember thinking how the kids were even younger than I was and how shocked I was that kids could possibly die this way. 

Most of all, though, I remember wanting to go back to the time in my life when I thought that no one would or could ever do such a thing to so many innocent people, to children. 

After that day, every intruder drill felt increasingly and agonizingly real. There were times when we weren’t sure if it was a drill at all, and why shouldn’t we fear that? The news was constantly bombarded with stories of school shootings year after year. 

During my sophomore year of high school, there was a school shooting in a small town only an hour away from my high school. Shootings weren’t some distant, horrible nightmare anymore. They were the terrible reality right outside our door. 

Later that same year, a threat was leaked in my high school that one of our students planned to organize a school shooting. I won’t ever forget the morning it was allegedly supposed to take place. The police had already begun investigating the threat but there was no calming our nerves. Students were visibly shaking in the classrooms and parents were coming to the school to take their kids home when they found out about the threat. 

The student was arrested and it was later released that he made the threat as a “joke” but not a single one of us found it funny. Murder was and never will be a joking matter, and the fear we all felt that day left a lasting mark. 

When I heard about the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, I was immediately taken back to my fifth-grade self, sitting in my writing class wondering how someone could murder such young, innocent children. I remembered the fear I felt when there was a school shooter threat and during all of those lockdown drills we thought were real, and how my fear must have been nothing compared to what those kids felt on May 24, 2022. 

Eleven-year-old Miah Cerrillo, a survivor of the Uvalde shooting, gave testimony describing  how 18-year-old Salvador Ramos came into her classroom and opened fire on the students and teacher. She said Ramos told her teacher “goodnight” and shot her in the head before firing on other students, including Miah’s friend who was next to her.  

“I thought he was going to come back to the room,” Miah said, “so I grabbed the blood and I put it all over me … I just stayed quiet and I got my teacher’s phone and called 911.” 

If you’re like me, you may have assumed the injuries the Uvalde victims sustained looked like the bullet wounds in movies. Those are the only bullet wounds I’d ever seen, but high velocity assault rifles don’t work like lower velocity weapons. 

According to an article by NPR, while handgun bullets often go straight through their target, “weapons such as the AR-15s used in many mass shootings, can liquefy organs because of their much higher projectile speeds.”

In the article, trauma surgeon at UC Davis Health in Sacramento, California, Dr. Ian Brown said that these types of high velocity assault rifles create cavitation. “As the projectile passes through tissue, it creates a large cavity. And that does a ton of tissue damage, both initially at the impact, and then even further as that tissue begins to necrose, or die off,” Brown said.

Because of the devastating injuries the assault rifle caused, authorities asked parents for DNA samples to help identify the bodies. 

In an article by the New York Times, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, Dr. James R. Gill said DNA testing “is not only more accurate, but it also spares parents the trauma of having to view photos like the ones that were shown to parents after 20 children were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.”

The surviving children in these schools not only lived through the trauma of the shooting but had to see their classmates’ bodies torn to pieces, something their parents weren’t  even shown. In the case of Miah Cerrillo, she believed her survival depended on her ability to look dead so she covered herself in her own friend’s blood so the gunman wouldn’t come back and shoot her, too. 

No child should have to live through this. No person should have to live through this. Things must change, but no amount of vigils and memorials are going to stop the next shooter from walking into the next school or supermarket or church to claim their next victims. 

As Biden said in his speech, “This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights. This is about protecting children. It’s about protecting families. It’s about protecting whole communities. It’s about protecting our freedoms to go to school, to a grocery store, to a church without being shot or killed.” 

Raising the purchasing age for or banning assault rifles, expanding background checks and enacting red flag laws will not infringe on U.S.  citizens’ rights to own and bear arms, but it will help keep guns away from people who intend to use the weapons to hurt and kill others. 

Strict rules are what made my relationship with guns feel safe when I was a kid and strict rules are what will make me feel safe now that I’m older. 

As someone who grew up with love and appreciation for gun culture, I am irreparably disgusted by irresponsible gun owners who murder children. As a student, I am exhausted by the constant threat of a shooter. As a journalist, I am heartbroken at the fact that we spend more time covering school shootings than graduations, but until changes are made, the victims’ stories must be told. 

This isn’t about taking away rights. This is about ensuring that kids have the chance to grow up past fifth grade and making sure no parent ever has to fear dropping their kid off at school again. This is about gun safety and responsibility.  

I have grown up with and been around guns for as long as I can remember. Guns are not the problem, but people are, and those people shouldn’t be able to purchase such deadly weapons. 

Editor in Chief Sophie Whitten can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @sophiewhitten_.

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