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America: Guns or Books?

Image via National Educators Association.

The BPR High School Program invited student writers from Providence-area public schools to research, draft, and edit a college-level opinion article over the course of Fall 2023. A special thank you to the editor on this piece, Michael Farrell-Rosen ‘24!

Ava Nunez is a senior at East Providence High School.

On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold fired shots during the school day, killing 12 students and one teacher, and injuring 21 others. This was one of the first significant instances of gun violence in schools in modern US history. The Columbine massacre marked the start of a traumatic era in which guns have become widespread in schools. Since Columbine, the United States has experienced nearly 400 school shootings

Firearms are commonly bought for “self-defense,” with many Americans keeping them on hand or in their homes. In the United States, “45 percent of households had at least one gun in their possession” in 2022. With advances in technology, it has become even easier to own a gun. Many states are lax in their gun laws. For example, to own a firearm in the state of Alabama, you don’t need a gun license. So, people can quickly get hold of firearms and use them in destructive ways. America’s gun laws need to change to keep students safer in their day-to-day lives.

School shootings are a result of American gun culture. If the government implemented additional gun protection laws, school shootings would lessen. In states with laxer firearm laws, there are more shootings. A study done by Everytown for Gun Safety found that states with the strictest gun laws have the fewest gun-related deaths. For example, “the Aloha State (Hawaii) had the lowest overall rate of gun violence in the country with just 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 residents.” The age requirement to purchase a firearm in Hawaii is 21 years old, with a background check or a purchase permit required. For any citizen to purchase a firearm, there is a strict “secure storage” law. This law requires firearms to be stored, locked, unloaded, and separated from ammunition. Secure storage prevents children from accessing weapons. I believe Congress should enact similar child-access prevention laws. Allowing a child to be in reach of a firearm puts the child and others in danger. 

Additionally, Congress should pass more bills to restrict the sale of guns. Guns can be sold anywhere: on black markets, in stores, or even out of homes. Recently, ‘ghost guns’—or “unserialized and intractable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home”—have spread across the gun market. You don’t need a background check or certification for these weapons, making them very dangerous and popular. Devising more effective means of stopping the illegal gun sales would help combat this problem. Recently deceased Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed a new gun law, which included a ban on “ghost guns.” However, this law saw no additional legislative progress. Feinstein’s “ghost gun” bill would be a better way to start a preventive measure against gun violence. Congress has to take more initiative and put laws into place surrounding the sale of firearms. 

Every state in America should have a more secure process for buying a gun. In the meantime, lax gun laws have resulting in higher school security. CNN published an article about the measures some institutions have taken to keep children safe. They include door locks, windows and covers, and bullet-proof backpacks.

During my education in the East Providence School District, I have noticed measures my own schools have taken to create a safe environment for all students. In elementary school, we had connecting classrooms. Therefore, to prevent a shooter from entering multiple classrooms, the school installed bulletproof doors with secure locks; put large objects in front of the doors; or even discarded the doors in their entirety, replacing them with walls. 

In certain hallways in my high school, the school installed a bulletproof door that rose from the ground. If an alert button is pressed, the iron doors pop up, blocking any potential intruder. When the intruder alert goes off, the doors automatically close and lock. Teachers pull down built-in black blinds to block a view of the classroom. Also, to enter the building, you need to go through three sets of doors. The visitor window in the main office is also bullet-proof, protecting the first person the intruder may come across in the office. 

Anti-intruder measures create a safe environment during school for staff and students. Knowing that schools have preventive measures to withstand threats has led to a better mental state for students during lockdowns and intruder drills. Personally, I have felt safer knowing precautions are keeping me safe during my time at East Providence High School. 

Other schools across the country could try similar systems to prevent gun violence at their schools. Though the process of building anti-shooting infrastructure was costly, it is worth protecting our students and teachers. Attending school every day without these precautions in place stokes fear in many students’ lives. If US schools and gun laws worked together, students would be safer in their day-to-day lives. We shouldn’t need to implement these precautions, but not enough gun laws have been put into place to protect our students.

It is essential for Americans to stand up against gun violence. Schools shouldn’t have to undergo drastic measures to prevent firearms from infiltrating school campuses. Columbine and the many school shootings that followed left marks in people’s lives that they will never recover from. Without sufficient gun laws, this problem will get increasingly worse. Students, parents, and teachers fear for their lives daily due to this issue. The United States of America has always been known as “the land of opportunity,” but with the abuse and misuse of firearms, our children are having their opportunities taken away from them.