Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser was published in 2000, a year and a half after the Columbine Shooting in Littleton, Colorado. You can check out this work of fiction in the ISD Library. It is 132 pages in length, and the format is fictional interviews and epistolary writing. The first page offers a fictional suicide note to “Dear Mom.” The index of the book includes a list of shootings that occurred between the time of the Columbine event and the publication of Give a Boy a Gun. This indexed list documents nineteen school shootings between April 20, 1999 and September 1, 2000. That’s just a bit more than one school shooting a month for the sixteen months between the two events.
Sam Pennypacker: “I personally never witnessed or experienced gun violence, but at my old school in Georgia, kids did bring handguns to school on two occasions, one of which resulted in minor injury to one student.”
Nineteen years have passed since the gun violence that occurred in Littleton, Colorado, and yet America’s talking points today remain stagnant, disconnected from actual solutions, and out of step with America’s yearn to stem access to weapons. The Pew Research Center has published America’s predominant desire for gun control. Break down the demographics and the research reveals that women desire gun control more than men do. Parents desire gun control more than non-parents do. Blacks and Latinxs desire gun control more than white populations. Urban populations desire gun control more than rural populations do. For the most part, these findings remain consistent over the two decades since Columbine. And yet America’s media and politicians refuse to pull themselves away from the clichéd excuses that stall the progress towards gun control that the majority of Americans want.
Cindy Farley: “I am glad I am trained to use and have protection in our home in the US. My husband also is trained and licensed.”
As a much younger educator in California, I witnessed several oft repeated refrains in American media then, and which still appear in some form or another in America’s current media. In 2000, young boys wearing trench coats became the new boogie man. Today video games like Grand Theft Auto are blamed. Marilyn Manson was blamed for his “satanic” music as negatively influencing young people into deviant behavior. Today, violent rap music is blamed. In the past, welfare mothers were America’s scapegoats. Today, Rick Santorum has revisited this old scapegoating territory. Santorum now hints that absent fathers lead to gun violence. Same obfuscating tropes. Different decade. The repeated media refrains included “mental illness”. In the past, media talking heads pointed the finger at Hollywood movies. Hollywood types, in turn, still point the finger at the NRA.
Mark and Audrey Forgeron: “We’ve never experienced gun violence, and we’re not gun people.”
Jackson Katz, an author, anti-violence educator, and documentarian, unravels this obfuscating finger-pointing between Hollywood and the NRA with research indicating that both gun and movie industries work in tandem to promote military products for the military or for video games. In the preceding hyperlink, you can see Sam Worthington and Jonah Hill promoting four industries: military industry, weapons industry, Hollywood industry, and the video game industry all in one advertisement. Katz explains that oftentimes, when scripts from Hollywood about war or a military narrative go from the page to the screen, Hollywood’s access to military facilities comes with a routine quid pro quo: “You want access to the arsenal or the military base? Then surrender editing rights such that the U.S. military and stockpiling of weapons are presented in a positive manner” (Tough Guise, Katz). One hand washes the other here. But, mainstream media seems happy to promote irresponsible journalism and ridiculously implausible solutions. A facile parroting of “the other” happens. Wayne La Pierre said such-and-such, and Hollywood stars have said this-that-or-the-other. Journalists offer few detailed and nuanced facts. They present no meaningful discussion of long and short term consequences to the stalled gun control legislation.
Anonymous ISD Assistant: “My boyfriend and I were walking down a street on the lower East Side when some guy came running by us. Then another guy came running after him with a handgun. We ducked down behind a car and heard ‘pow, pow, pow’. The first guy was shot in the back.”
One month after the Parkland shooting, we hear America’s politicians advocating for teachers to have guns in their classrooms. Trump has “proposed ‘a little bit of a bonus’ for teachers who go through ‘rigorous’ training to carry guns in the classroom”. Wayne La Pierre of the NRA continues to repeat today what he said after the Sandy Hook shooting: “to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.” Dana Loesch threatens journalists that don’t regurgitate NRA narratives; “we’re coming for you." Jimmy Kimmel’s pool of white man tears, to date, have not affected gun control legislation. Emotive rants remain ineffectual.
Nevdon Jamgochian: “In my high school growing up, guns were brought to school, and twice I was threatened with a handgun.”
There is hope. Young students, such as Quincy Loria, yearn for answers different than the same old tropes that have gotten America no where in the last two decades. Quincy Loria, an ISD Freshman, spoke to me about Give a Boy a Gun, and said she "understands that bullying can be painful, but that the kid’s solution, shooting people, isn’t ok." In our conversation she noted that "mental health needs to be addressed, but the problem of kids buying guns is not ok." As a librarian, seeing ISD students gravitate to reading about topics that have an impact on their lives, pleases me greatly. The message about independent inquiry and self advocacy has worked! ISD students are inquirers and ready to discuss and challenge the big topics that touch our communities. Model your behavior after Quincy’s behavior. Come to the library and read up on the topics that have an impact on our lives.
Wendy Kinyeki: “I was walking home from a party when three men on a bike pulled up. Two got off and one pointed a handgun at us. He said three times, ‘put everything on the ground.’ I only had my phone, so put it on the ground and backed up. My friend was pat down and had his wallet taken with all of his documentation. It was the first time I had ever seen a gun.”
My own experience with handgun violence may stand out from the norm. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe others that I work with have had similar situations. The first time I was at the receiving end of gun violence, I was fourteen years old. My brother was four years old. A cop who lived in the neighborhood left his guns unlocked in his home, and his son got one and shot at me and my brother. He was a schoolmate of mine, and the same age as me. A second experience with handgun violence was after driving home from a friend’s house. A car backed out in front of me, forcing me to break hard. A young man was chasing after the car, shooting his handgun at the people in the car. I quickly turned the wheel to head away from the handgun fire, but not before I saw a kid’s body laying in the parking lot where the handgun conflict originated. The third time I was on the receiving end of handgun violence, I was thirty-eight years old. I saw an elderly man being beaten by two young men. I stepped forward to intervene. The crime escalated, and one of the young men pulled a handgun out of his jacket and pointed the handgun at the elderly man. He was standing next to me, so in essence the gun was pointed at us, not just him. The young man pulled the trigger four times. The handgun did not go off.
Eric Rodine: My son lives in and is training to become a police officer in a rural community. He has guns, and is trained and licensed. The guns he has are rifles and shotguns. He keeps them locked up and secure. I’m personally not a gun person, but I’m fine with my son having guns.”
My brother got his first job at Trader Joe’s, a store that was robbed by a crew of men who came in with handguns, pointed the gun directly at him, ordered him to the ground, and took the money from the cash registers. No one was shot, and my brother lived to tell the tale. My mother was in a home with a man who claimed to be cleaning his handgun when the handgun went off. The bullet missed my mother by a few feet.
Catharina Gress-Wright: “I’ve never experienced any gun violence, but I credit that to growing up in Denmark. Even amongst law enforcement, using guns is the very last resort.”
The reason I document my family’s harrowing stories is because even though assault rifles are the hot topic after the Parkland shooting, I can’t help but believe that we Americans have been neglecting a far more deadly weapon than the assault rifle. After accessing the Arizona Department of Public Safety page, (my home state) the public records reveal that handguns were the number one weapon used to kill people in the state of Arizona in the 2015 year. Handguns made up 51.7% of the weapons used in a murder. Other unstated firearms made up 12%. A knife or other cutting instrument made up 11% of the weapons used in a murder. See Crime in Arizona pdf for more detailed statistics.
Lorne Bird: “I’ve never experienced any gun violence, and I’m not opposed to gun ownership. With long waiting periods, training and common sense, there should be no problem. A quick analogy - in Canada, there is a five year period between 16 and 21 to be an independent driver. Surely, there should be the same waiting period for someone to be licensed to carry a gun. Furthermore, no member of the public should have an assault rifle.”
If you want to know the crime statistics in your own home states, look at the Department of Public Safety. I have not looked at statistics for all fifty states, but the AR-15 conversation seems to be an emotional trigger to a large population. Right now the popular statements are, “No one needs a weapon that can load a high capacity magazine, capable of mass killings within a minute.” And while this statement does ring true for me, people are still tiptoeing around the weapon that seems to cause more destruction of life and the most conflict; the handgun. Why is the handgun so sacred to Americans? What justifications do we have to not make strict laws regarding access to handguns? I have more questions than answers. There are no easy answers. And some of my answers surely will not suit my everyone in my community.
Adam Bishop: “I’m happy to say I’ve had no personal experience with gun violence.”
But like I said. There is hope. Young people are galvanized. Here on the ISD campus, the Quincy-type students of ISD do their research and engage the conversation. Let’s engage the conversation. I hope to expand the conversation and bring as many fact based resources as possible to the discussion. Let’s all be a Quincy.
Kerry Hurst: “I was driving by a convenience store after dropping off a friend. Four men were in front of the store, saw me and began to yell at me and tell me to get out of their neighborhood. One of the four pulled out a handgun and shot in my direction. Whether the shooting was specifically at me or in the air, I didn’t stick around to find out.”
Micah Hall: “Growing up in Oklahoma, it was normal for people to have gun racks in their trucks. We drove to school with our guns. There was never any problem, ‘cause we knew what a gun could do.”
Resources to consider reading to guide your own conversations with your children about the topic of gun control:
The ISD library databases have Opposing ViewPoints, offering statistics, academic journals, newspaper articles, magazine articles, reference materials, websites, and videos that offer pro and con features to guide conversation on the topic of gun control.
Congress.gov has nine bills introduced, one of which is H.R. 1478, the “Gun Violence Research Act”. Get the pdf formats of the bill and stay abreast of who is introducing legislation. Do the bill summaries reflect your values and desires regarding gun laws and solutions to habitual gun violence in America?
Department of Justice, the FBI, and local or state archives should be places that you consider for in depth and fact based collection and analysis of gun violence data or the amount of times the use of a gun successfully prevented a crime.
Gumbel, Andrew. “The truth about Columbine.” The Guardian. April 17, 2009. Consider the staying power that false information has in our public discourse, and the responsibility for accuracy in journalism so that our own conversations are rooted in fact rather than heat of the moment speculation and guess work. Pay close attention to how frightfully long misinformation remains a part of America’s discourse.
GunPolicy.org offers international firearm injury prevention and policy information. A researcher can look at policies from different nations. When you scroll to Senegal, documentation reveals that as of 2014, legal and illegal gun ownership is estimated at 230,000. The number of homicides by any means was 25 people in the year 2013.
NRA.org will give you access to information about firearms training, safety and education, and politics and legislation.
The Rand Corporation (rand.org) offers a review of various points of research on the gun debate. Click on “Gun Policy in America” to see what scientific research can tell us about the effects of gun laws.
The Violence Policy Center presents links deconstructing the ways in which the NRA begins its marketing campaign to hook children into purchasing guns and nurtures youth gun culture.
John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has several links that look at the connection between gun violence and domestic violence.