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.

Guns Across America

Young boy holding a rifle. Photo by Jacob Benavides.

Photo by Jacob Benavides

by Jasmine Martin

My friends from around the country have varying opinions on firearms and their views seem to reflect the national debate about gun reform.  Katie Wolfe from Montana said, “I shot my first gun in the backyard when I was probably six. I got my hunter’s license when I was 14 and received a rifle as a gift when I was 16 and a shotgun as a gift when I was 17.”

There have been 288 school shootings in the United States since 2009. That is 57 times as many as other nations such as Canada (2), France (2), and Japan (0). Aside from school shootings, a gunman murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Then in 2016, 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in 2017, 58 people were killed and more than 850 were injured at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Christopher Delgiorno, who lives in Las Vegas, said he shot his first gun when he was either eight or nine years old. He said “It’s not like everybody is strapped up but you see a lot of people open carrying in the gym, the park, etc.” But he thinks gun laws need to be made stricter to prevent school shootings and he said, “Everyone needs to be involved in prevention throughout the whole process. Instead of just arming teachers or increasing security, we need more mental and social health programs in schools and communities.”

Katie Wolf had a different opinion. She said “I don’t think the gun laws should be made any stricter. I think we could require a class to be taken to teach how to safely use a gun and encourage adults to keep them locked up where kids cannot get to them.”

In order to change some of the gun laws around the country, Americans will have to come to some sort of agreement. As of 2015, eighty-two percent of weapons used during mass shootings were purchased legally. The problem is not handguns or hunting rifles, but in most states people can purchase an AR-15 at the age of 18. This military style weapon can shoot over 100 rounds per minute. Yet because guns play a big role in the lives of millions across the country, it will be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Jacob Benavides of Texas said, “The gun culture runs so deep that people don’t even think about whether they like them or not; guns just exist, and they always will.”

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.

 

Gun Violence Hits Soldier In Brooklyn

guns-in-our-lives
Soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Army photo by Specialist Noelle Wiehe

 

by Tamara Johnson

“It all happened so fast. The guy was coming in our direction and we just ran. I didn’t even know I was hit,” Curtis J recalled.  Curtis was shot in the face while waiting for his mother outside a grocery store in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in December 2015.

The U.S. Army chief warrant officer had come home for a short visit and took his mother shopping, never imagining that someone would shoot at him. “I felt the bullet bouncing around in my mouth so I kept it closed tight. The bullet was hot.”

Curtis asked us not to use his full name. But his story is one of many that show how guns affect life in our communities. Curtis suffered extensive damage to his tongue and lost several teeth as a result of the shooting. The shooter turned himself in after he realized that he shot someone he knew and the Army told Curtis that he can’t visit his old neighborhood and remain on active duty.

“Growing up, you didn’t see [guns] like that.  Having them was one thing but using them was another thing,” he said. The suspect intended to rob Curtis and made off with the black SUV that belonged to Curtis’s mother. “He was just looking for someone to rob. He knew me, but he didn’t know it was me until the next day.”

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, the discussion of guns and violence hits close home for many. According to the New York attorney general’s analysis of ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) reports between 2010 and 2015, there were 52,195 crime guns recovered in New York alone. Ninety percent of those guns were recovered in New York City, Long Island, Rochester, Lower Hudson Valley, Capital Region, Syracuse, and Buffalo. Despite these statistics, only 14 percent of the guns originated in New York. That means 86 percent were purchased out of state.

Military members take mandatory military weapons training, and Curtis points out that most are aware of the harm that guns can do. He laughed when asked about the role of guns in work life. He said, “We are professionals at our jobs, we don’t just handle weapons. I’m an aviation pilot.”

For him the shooting caused a personal struggle. “I used to have a gun outside of work. Getting shot made me paranoid,” he said.  “Afterward, I found comfort in my mind instead of my weapon… [guns] make the weak powerful and the strong weak.”