Kids With Guns

by Mohammed Atif

I remember being eight years old in Pakistan seated on a peeling leather sofa under a slow ceiling fan, rubbing the wooden stock of a Kalashnikov. The weapon was a 7.62 x 39mm fixed stock assault rifle invented by the Soviet Union that eventually became the preferred weapon of the poorly-funded jihadist. The owner of the shiny weapon I took interest in, though, was my uncle,  member of the Peshawar police force. My cousins and I would make Dua, chew paan together and listen to him recount seemingly fantastical stories rife with violence and acts of terror. We’d then go outside to the field behind his modest home and act these scenes out with toy guns.

Pakistan is home to a gun-friendly society.  The number of firearms owned by civilians here is estimated to be at least 18,000,000, which works out to a rate of 11.6 guns per 100 people. This was clear to me from the beginning. Every friend’s house I visited had a gun that belonged to the family inside. Every Eid, bullets were sprayed in the air as celebration, and the same spectacle took place at every wedding. Guns have always been an intrinsic facet of the culture and deeply rooted in tradition, especially in the northwest in villages and small provinces far away from urban centers such as Islamabad and Lahore. Guns provide food, protection from the Mujahadeen, and a potential heirloom for sons and their own sons. But the misuse is apparent; With such easy access to weapons, criminals and militants have liberally stockpiled them to sell or to put to use.

The effect of the many guns is obvious: Pakistan is currently the number one country where the most violent crimes that result in murder occur. This is even more startling once you take into account that reporting and documenting homicide is much less common there compared to the Western world.

Fortunately, there has been a push towards reformation and restriction of gun ownership in the country.  Pakistan’s National Report (2016) under the UN Program of Action (PoA) on Small and Light Weapons (SLAW) shows that Pakistan of late has been a vocal proponent of arms control at the national level, sub-regional and regional as well as the global level. An elaborate legal, administrative and regulatory regime now exists in Pakistan to check the flow of weapons. A very strict criterion for issuance of arms licenses has been established by the 2012 Arms Control Policy. The authority for approval for possessing automatic weapons exists solely with the Prime Minister. Although there are still challenges to overcome and problems to solve, the country is in much better shape than it was a decade ago.

Books Not Bullets

Students Protesting Gun Violence, Hands up Don't Shoot

by Jenna Shefts

Thousands of students and activists found each other on Twitter after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead. Many, including me, felt extremely upset by the shooting and the lack of laws to prevent gun violence in this country. We use Twitter to voice our opinions and spread awareness about the dangers of gun violence. I have met activists from all around the world who belong to different student led gun control organizations that we have turned into a small community of gun control activists.

March For Our Lives brought a lot of us together. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and others formed March For Our Lives which started out as a student led gun control march in Washington DC on March 24, 2018. It got a big boost from Twitter and soon spread into a larger movement.

Students from all over the country formed small March For Our Lives chapters in their communities to try to put a stop to gun violence by organizing local town halls, advocating for gun control candidates, and protesting candidates who take money from the NRA.

Jenna Tweet image

One day, an activist I follow tweeted about wanting to make a group chat with other activists. I responded and said how I would love to  join. All of a sudden, I was in a group chat with 30 others and we activists became close friends. We learned that some have even been affected by gun violence at their schools or in their communities.

Mollie Davis from Great Mills, Maryland, said “I got involved after the Parkland shooting and organized my school’s walkout on March 14th, 2018. But then less than a week later on March 20th, 2018 there was a shooting at my school. I got more intensely involved when the issue became personal. I don’t want other people to go through what I did”. The shooter killed Jaelynn Willey at Great Mills High School. It was one of the 65 schools where a shooting occurred in 2018.

This movement also started to focus on things like gun violence in urban communities. I met Diego Garcia from Chicago online through other activist friends. He said, “I got involved in the movement because gun violence is normalized in the southwest side of Chicago and it shouldn’t be that way. Gang violence isn’t really mentioned in the movement and I want to make sure that it stays in the loop”.

A lot of the time the guns used in these shootings are purchased legally. More than 80 percent of the guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally. “Even though Chicago has one of the strongest gun control laws, other places like Indiana don’t. That makes it very easy for people to drive over to a different state, get a gun, then shoot someone without having to go through a difficult process.” This is why a lot of students are advocating for the extensive background checks bill which House Speaker Paul Ryan says will not pass. Students are holding their local politicians accountable for these shootings. Mollie said, “We need stricter gun control because it’s common sense. Mass and school shootings are a uniquely American epidemic that is preventable. The government isn’t doing enough”.

Some students are so outraged by the lack of action from their government that they are protesting outside of politicians’ offices. Naomi Caplan, a friend from Maryland, who I also met through the movement, was one of four girls arrested for protesting outside of Speaker Ryan’s Office on April 18, 2018. She said her reason for doing it was because “He doesn’t do sh*t when he could, and we needed to send a message.”

“There are no excuses at this point and it’s infuriating to watch politicians continue to be silent.” said Mollie Davis.

 

Guns In My Home State

by Laura Fotovich

“I’m not necessarily pro-gun but I’m not anti-gun either.  I think the laws should be stricter on how people can obtain a gun legally, but I don’t think outlawing guns is going to help [solve the problem] in America,” said Overland Park, Kansas, resident Emily Butler.

Emily and others I interviewed from my hometown in Olathe, Kansas, and the surrounding area began to think about gun control after the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 dead.  Guns are extremely common in Kansas, a fact that I learned from a very young age.  You simply cannot escape their presence. I remember when I saw a man in Olathe carry a gun into a local barbeque restaurant at lunchtime like it was perfectly normal.  The restaurant was busy and others noticed as well.  No one said anything, but many looked away uncomfortably.

 

People in Kansas carry guns for recreational shooting, hunting and looks.  “You see a lot more guns out here,” said my father, Larry Fotovich. My dad still lives in our hometown.  He remembers when he saw a local man try to bring a gun into a gun-free building.  “He got out of his truck and realized he couldn’t go into the post office with a gun on his hip, so he bent down and stuck it under [the seat of his car].  People are rabid about guns in Kansas,” he said.

 

Since I moved to New York City I haven’t seen any firearms.

 

Gun laws vary between states, especially between states in different regions of the country.  In New York, a license is required for any U.S. citizen (or non-U.S. citizen that is a lawful permanent resident or has a valid alien firearm license) to own a handgun, but a license isn’t necessary to possess a long gun.  The New York City laws are stricter, requiring a license to own both a handgun and a long gun.  Kansas, on the other hand, allows any citizen above the age of 21 to openly carry a gun without a license.

 

A problem in Kansas involves people who try to bring guns into gun-free zones.  “I had a kid in my school who tried to bring a gun to school.  He was in my first hour class.  The police got him before he came into school,” said Springhill, Kansas, resident Mary Kate Hale.  Growing up in the Midwest helped shape Mary Kate’s opinion on gun laws.  “Knowing how many people around me carry guns on their waist or in their car trunk gives me the creeps.  It has definitely made my views towards gun control stronger.  There is no reason to need to have a gun in public” she added.

 

Regardless of a person’s views about gun control, the total number of fatalities is fact-based.  In 2018 New York totaled an average of four firearm deaths per 100,000 people, while Kansas totaled 13.3 firearm deaths per 100,000 people.

 

Leawood, Kansas, resident Jack McConathy recounted a story of gun violence in downtown Kansas City.  “My aunt’s friend was leaving a bar one night and this car drove past her.  A guy rolled down the window and shot her as part of a gang initiation,” he said.  “Growing up in the Midwest, gun culture is kind of ingrained into society,” he added.

 

In some Kansas schools it is legal to conceal and carry firearms.  Johnson County Community College, for example, has a concealed carry policy that allows students to carry firearms on campus as long as they cannot be seen.

 

Emporia, Kansas, resident Dylan Schneider supports concealed carry in Kansas, as long as proper background checks and training are implemented.  “As a future teacher I want to make sure every school that I teach in, and every school in the nation, has the means to protect itself against active shooters, because the safety of the children is the top priority,” he said.

 

Many gun safety advocates think this strategy could be risky for the overall safety of the children.  On average, one school shooting occurs every week in the United States and as of June 2018, the United States has suffered a total of 154 mass shootings.

 

The Gun That Hit Close To Home

Photo courtesy Maxi Pixel, Creative Commons License

By: Sarai Irizarry Ortiz

“All I ever truly remember is asking god why it had to be my best friend. The person I was most close to. The only sibling I had,” says Elizabeth Granados as she recounts the passing of her brother to gun violence in Mexico.

Elizabeth left Michoacán, Mexico at seventeen, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and four children. She remembers that Tuesday, November 15, 2016 clearly. She was on her lunch break. At about 1:45 her phone rang, and her mother’s voice trembled as she told her that her brother James was killed in a gang-related activity.

Recently, sitting on a wooden chair, hands crossed between her legs, Elizabeth recalled the trip to Mexico to see her brother’s dead body and the gun used to kill him. “It was very traumatic for me to see my brother lying there. Not hearing me when I speak, not feeling my touch. Very traumatizing. And the gun? I was shaking when I saw that thing. I’ve never seen a gun prior to my brother’s killing,” she said.

With kids of her own, she worries for their safety and the possibility that gun violence may find them. “At the end of the day, crime is everywhere, guns are everywhere, imagine living in a country where there is absolutely no crime, no killings? It doesn’t exist,” she said.

According to the New York Crime Gun Analysis, New York State has one of the strongest gun safety laws in the country. But even so, criminals still get illegal guns. Seven states known as the “Iron Pipeline” — Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Ohio — supply many of the guns that reach New York.

“I know I live in one of the safest cities in the world, but truth be told anything can happen anywhere at any time. When you come from a place where there are high death rates, you always live at the brink of fear. But you never really believe it could happen to you and it happened to me, I fear for the lives of my children every day. There’s only so much protecting that I can do,” said Elizabeth.

Other New Yorkers say they are wary of guns and know that they are in their neighborhoods. For David Azcona, 23, who was born and raised in Washington Heights, being around guns was all too common.

“I’m so desensitized to shootings that I don’t react the way one should react to them just because I’ve witnessed so many of them. In my opinion, this is something that’s just always going to exist, but I believe New York does the best they can to handle this compared to other cities where gun laws aren’t as strong. In fact, the other day it was reported that for the first time in decades New York City didn’t have a single shooting over the weekend. You know, that’s a big deal, and just shows the great strides this city is taking,” he says.

 

 

 

Do Metal Detectors Prevent Gun Violence?

Cardi B-Instagram post about guns

by Roberto Hart

“Ya wanna know what’s the problem? That the government only put metal detectors in schools in the HOOD!” You can always count on the Bronx, New York, native and rising rapper Cardi B to let people know what’s on her mind, and the minds of others. With one Instagram post reacting to the Parkland, Florida school shooting, she sparked a conversation about metal detectors.

 

guns-in-our-lives
Line forms for metal detector scanning at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens, N.Y.

Dominick Fobbs graduated from a high school with metal detectors in Springfield Gardens, Queens. The 23-year-old said, “Maybe they should have had metal detectors… Springfield has them and you don’t hear of things like that happening there. Outside of the school is another story because that’s just the area”

Another Springfield graduate, Sarah Otivia, said she remembers the detectors feeling like an inconvenience at first. “You had to come an extra thirty minutes early, wait on a huge line no matter what the weather was. But after a few years in you understand why this was done,” she said.

In New York City, school officials, parents, and politicians have debated the merits of metal detectors for almost thirty years. The first metal detectors on school grounds were installed in 1992 after two students were shot to death at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. There are now about 88 high school and middle school buildings across NYC with airport-style scanners and handheld metal detectors.

The installation of metal detectors is often considered the city’s knee-jerk reaction to violent episodes. After a knife attack by a student at Urban Assembly’s Wildlife Conservation High School in the Bronx in 2017 left one student dead and another wounded, metal detectors were installed the very next day. Critics wondered why they weren’t there in the first place.

 The New York Times, in 2017, reported that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) found the number of weapons, or “dangerous instruments,” at public schools had increased from 1,073 to 1,429. Rather than an increase of incidents, the Times quoted the mayor saying, “The increase reflects a city more adept at discovering weapons.” In the same article, Chief NYPD Spokesman Stephen P. Davis also pointed out, “Not all confiscations result from metal detectors.”

New York City Mayor de Blasio told CBS2 in 2017 that he’s not opposed to metal detectors. But he asked, “Do we aspire to a society where every kid has to go through a metal detector to go to school?” Others like Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union call for more “relationship building” to answer questions like, “What went wrong? What is going on in this school with regard to the overall climate, with regard to bullying, with regard to conflict resolution, with regard to whether or not kids have an adult that they can go to for support in the school environment?”

Those who oppose metal detectors argue that they create a hostile environment for students. Principal Jill Bloomberg of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Collegiate told ProPublic that installing metal detectors “sends a message to the students that ‘We don’t trust you. And even if we trusted you, we don’t necessarily trust the guy behind you.’”

 

 

 

Stoneman Douglas Graduates Respond To School Shooting

guns-in-our-lives

by Erik Garcia

Claire McCue, a professor of social work at Hunter College in New York City, was in a Manhattan coffee shop using her laptop when she saw her hometown high school all over the national news. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had never been in the national spotlight before. Claire, who has family and friends at the school, feared the worst.

Claire borrowed headphones from another customer in the coffee shop and nervously watched a livestream of the Coral Springs Police Department responding to a shooting reported at Douglas High School. She worried about friends and people she knew.

Claire called her close friend, Allison, who has twin daughters at the school. Allison was already rushing to the school to see if her girls were all right. “It was horrifying to see the school under those circumstances,” Claire recounted. “My nephew Joe lost his friend. Knowing the first responders personally…it was all just paralyzing.” Allison’s girls, it turned out, were not harmed.

Many Douglas High School graduates, myself included, and parents of current students had experiences like Claire’s on the day of the shooting. “Parkland is a small town,” explains Valerie Siegel, a Douglas graduate now living in Atlanta, GA. “Many of us have friends that still live in the area and have kids or other family members at Douglas.”

Douglas High School graduates are troubled by the shooting but also hopeful that the current generation of Douglas students will accomplish something positive in the wake of the tragedy. “I was pretty devastated when I heard about it,” says Brian Bromberg, a director of creative content at Nickelodeon in New York City. Brian grew up in South Florida near Douglas High School, and, like many Douglas graduates, Brian says that he was shocked and upset by the shooting but feels hopeful as he sees current Douglas students leading the national discourse on gun violence.

“A lot of people who were affected are kids of former classmates of mine,” Brian explains. “I know of two kids who are traumatized by it. I know two of the kids that were shot—I know their parents. But, it’s very encouraging how the kids are reacting. They haven’t had enough experience with politics yet to feel like nothing’s going to change. They’re going to get more done than our generation did.”

The day after the shooting, Douglas graduates from all over the U.S. rallied to support their alma mater. Details are being kept private to avoid publicity. The extended Douglas family admires and supports the efforts of current Douglas students to get existing firearm regulations modified and new regulations enacted. Within weeks of the shooting, prompted by the lobbying of Douglas students, the Florida Legislature passed modest gun control legislation that increased the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and expanded background checks, but stopped short of banning assault weapons. Banning assault rifles is one of the demands of the 17 Voices movement, led by Douglas students, formed in the wake of the shooting.

Stuart Siegel is a Douglas graduate now living in Ajo, Arizona where he is director of the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center. “I felt saddened and shocked,” Stuart explained, “but also numbness due to the number of shootings that there have been, and how the rhetoric seems to get us nowhere, and how we just seem to be aggressive and divided. But, I’m impressed by the way that the current students are handling it—getting national attention repeatedly, leading the national discussion on gun control and violence in a way that I’ve never seen before. I’m cynical about the political process, but I’m hopeful that whatever energy is stirred up right now will continue to bear fruit.”

Valerie Siegel, who works with the Homebuilder’s Association in Atlanta, knew one of the Douglas shooting victims, assistant football coach Aaron Feis. “Coach was two years younger than me,” Valerie explained. “My friends are extremely affected by his death. My friend’s nieces and daughter were in the building. I hate that people feel unsafe in that building now. I don’t know how to think about any of it. Those kids are amazing, though. They’re going to change the world.”