Gun violence is not a shot in the dark

Lavanya Shyamsundar, Staff Writer

On Jan. 6, the United States was once again shocked by a school shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Virginia. The perpetrator was a six-year-old student. Within days into the new year, the first grader shot his teacher in the chest with the intent to harm. The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, who is now in stable condition, was the only victim. Although Zwerner helped evacuate other students, the intensity of the situation reminds students around the nation that their lives could be taken away with a pull of a trigger. This normalization of violence in America and growing rates of school shootings demand stricter gun control.


The qualifications to own and use a firearm must be more rigid. Currently, only eight states require a permit to carry a firearm. Many states, including California, allow firearms to be gifted or passed down from parent to adult child without reporting it to the government, making guns easily accessible to the youth.


In Virginia, where the shooting occurred, there are no regulations regarding the storage of weapons. This leniency caused speculation that the firearm’s owner, the first grader’s mother, left the weapon in a place the student could access. The fact that the student knew how to operate a gun further reflects irresponsibility on the mother’s part.

Not only should proper storage requirements be enforced, but policymakers must reform laws to specify who may own a gun. Prospective firearm users should undergo a thorough background check to determine if they have violent tendencies or malicious intent. If so, these “red-flag” laws should enable officials to revoke guns.


Prior to this shooting, the student’s mother was charged with child neglect: her 10-year-old was found alone in a hotel room with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Had there been more preventative laws in place and the mother’s privilege to own a gun was revoked, this tragedy could have been prevented. 

The student’s background is not the only source of blame; the school’s blatant passiveness to gun violence threats allowed the shooting to happen. Despite receiving reports that the first-grader threatened to beat up a peer, carried a gun out to recess, and threatened to shoot a child, the school didn’t authorize a bag check,  hoping that the situation would resolve itself. Though the district superintendent was fired for ignoring the situation, this oversight demands better security in schools and preventative laws.

However, stricter gun control is not a high priority for many politicians. Though overall, according to a UChicago poll, nearly three-fourths of Americans believe that gun control laws must be enforced, these figures may not be as overwhelming in some politicians’ districts. Furthermore, as there is no consensus on what specific restrictions must be placed, meaningful change hasn’t been made.


If legal intervention is not taken, new school policies must be introduced to prevent more school shootings. The incident with the six-year-old may seem chiefly a question of gun violence: without access to a gun, he would not have been able to commit the crime. However, schools across the country should consider why the child resorted to gun violence in the first place. 


It is not uncommon for young children to make emotional and aggressive decisions to cope with their anger, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. However, access aggravates violence. Having access to dangerous weapons without proper education on their dangers may quickly escalate a child’s hostile behavior from hair-pulling to shooting.  


Schools must implement lessons on gun safety and positive coping mechanisms for aggression in order to educate the youth about the world’s complexities — including violence. Students should recognize that guns are not toys, and have access to mental health professionals on-campus if they experience or are exposed to gun violence.


The Richneck shooting demonstrates that America needs to take firearm possession more seriously. If Americans want access to guns, they should earn their access and be willing to teach their children about the violence associated with guns. Only when people take responsibility can our nation’s schools become a safe haven.