By Becky Spaulding
Collegiate Staff Writer
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 3,042 children and teens were killed and over 17,000 were wounded by guns in 2007 alone. Since October, Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas have had at least four shootings, three of which were fatal, by teens. One was at a 17-year-old’s birthday party. Bobby Hughes, 17, was shot “multiple times” over a disagreement that is still yet to be determined. He died at the scene. There was a shooting in Muskegon this past November. Brandon McPherson, 19, was shot and killed in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon. On November 18, an 18-year-old, Luis Partee, was shot and then run over by a car in an Admiral gas station parking lot on the southeast side of Grand Rapids. He died trying to protect his brother, Jesse, from gunfire, after a fight broke out at a party they were attending together.
In America, it is almost impossible to keep any child from being exposed to violence. According to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) website, over 280 million American civilians own handguns, and so children are being exposed to them at a young age. I realize that a great number of gun owners are responsible – keeping their gun locked up, with ammo elsewhere, and teaching their children to respect guns, not revere them. However, in a country that glorifies violence the way that America does, children’s view of guns can sometimes become skewed. When a teenager sees his or her favorite rapper waving a gun around in a music video, it sends the message that it’s a cool thing to have, and a cool thing to use.
Teenagers, who can often be impulsive and not think before acting, whether they know right from wrong or not, most likely don’t think about the consequences of pulling the trigger until they are being hauled away in a police car. According to the CDF’s “Protect Children, Not Guns” initiative, 95 percent of firearm deaths in young people occurred among the ages of 10 and 19 years old, and nearly 58 children and teens are killed every week by gunfire. The CDF believes that gun laws are too lax in many states.
“We must act to end the culture of violence that desensitizes us – young and old – to the value of life,” said Marian Right Edelman, the president of CDF. “We need political leaders who will protect our children by enacting legislation to limit the number of guns in our communities, control who can obtain firearms, and ensure that guns in the home are stored securely and safely.”
So, who, if anyone, is to blame? Is it the parents? Or simply the violent world around us – the news shows us each day how surrounded we are by death and fear. Our country is constantly at war, and under the threat of possible attack, and it is often hard to walk down the street or go to bed at night without at least a twinge of fear at the possibility that something awful could happen to us. Guns are in our schools, in our homes, and they are made to seem like playthings to teenagers and children when viewed through their eyes – video games, music videos, movies, television, and there’s always simply the fact that parents aren’t necessarily teaching their kids what a gun can really do.
According to family safety expert Gavin de Becker, there are many possible reasons for teenage violence. “Experiencing and/or witnessing violence as children, and the influence of the media that depicts violence and revenge as admirable ways to resolve problems” will often encourage violent behavior. He says that “violence is the result of a recipe of influences, mixed together in context.”
“The media makes heroes out of those who use violence,” he says. “Local TV-news shows frighten people with a constant diet of stories about victimization. Other factors include our shockingly abundant harvest of guns (20,000 enter the stream of commerce every day), the absence of participating fathers, and on and on.”
And it doesn’t help that human beings, it seems, are violent by nature. Nearly every culture has developed some sort of weaponry since there were minds able to do so. There seem to be a lot of differing opinions as to why guns were invented in the first place – to protect, to hunt, for sport, and so on – but there is one very obvious reason: To instill fear into our fellow man. Everyone wants to be the bigger, tougher person, but no one wants to deal with the consequences.
I’ll admit that my parents let me watch fairly violent movies at a young age, but they always explained to me what was going on. My father does not own a gun but still taught me that they are not toys, and that they are not something to wave around in someone’s face like they do in the movies. Perhaps more parents should think about that before they give their kids the new Call of Duty game or let them watch that violent television show.
I’m all for exposure, there’s no point in keeping our youth sheltered because then they are more likely to be corrupted, but the exposure needs to come with a lesson. This is not real – this is not something you can do at home. The shootings that have occurred in Michigan lately show us that there’s a possibility that people and politics might need to change here. Our children need to realize that when they pull that trigger, it is actually game over – there are no back-up lives in reality.