Gun culture: firearms in American society

February 3, 2016


With a loudspeaker blaring in the background, students swiftly gather construction paper and old newspapers to block out windows, using a combination of blue masking tape and paper to obstruct the view from outside. In unison, the class works together to secure the room; as two students move a bookcase to block the door, another one shuts the blinds.

On Nov. 12, students participated in a lockdown drill, following the protocol for reacting to an emergency situation of having an active gunman on campus.

According to Assistant Head of Student Affairs Greg Lawson, Harker’s own safety measures in an active shooter situation call for special procedure.

“We practice run-hide-defend; this is now the developing practice in lockdown,” Lawson said. “Barricade the doors, turn off the lights, stay quiet and maybe if we do the PA thing, it will help people to know where the danger is coming from.”

In this drill, students and teachers fortify classrooms by constructing barricades, closing windows, flipping desks and remaining as quiet as possible.

Harker’s drill is consistent with a growing national concern for safety.

In 2015, 52 school shootings have left 30 dead and 53 injured. Schools now place a greater focus on implementing new measures to prepare against potential gun violence.

As instances of gun violence occur more frequently nationwide, the mindset of campus administrators has changed.

“Before school even starts, we are already doing prep work with teachers. We have a group that puts all the teachers through a preliminary set of training,” Lawson said. “We are giving ourselves as much of an advantage as we can. It is an awful thing to think about. We get better every time, we actually even do lockdown drills at the preschool.”

Despite the recent increase in nationwide violence, some students doubt the drill’s effectiveness in handling active shooter situations.

“I guess drills help a little, but I’m not sure how much hiding under a desk is going to do, if someone came in with a gun. I guess it would slow down the attacker until the police arrive,” Mohnish Shah (12) said.

Although some students responded to the November emergency procedure with giggles and laughs, the Paris attacks and Planned Parenthood shooting of the following Thanksgiving break week communicated the widespread reality of gun violence to the world.

Stephanie Scaglia (10), who has family living in Paris, shared her reaction upon hearing of the attacks in an interview with Harker Aquila.

“My dad texted me,” Stephanie said. “I felt really shocked and scared for my family, and I immediately asked if my cousins were [okay] and he said ‘Yes,’ because they lived on the other side of Paris.”

On Jan. 5, in the wake of the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shooting, in which 14 were killed and 22 were injured by a couple armed with legally purchased weapons, President Barack Obama announced an executive order aimed at expanding the background check system for gun purchases online and at gun shows. His intent also includes initiatives to improve gun safety technology and to provide $500 million for mental health treatment. It also outlined plans for 200 agents in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Helen Dunkel, ATF Public Information Officer from the San Francisco Field Division, stated in a phone interview that she believes regulations could help minimize gun violence, but that the problem is difficult to solve.

“You can’t even buy a car without registering the car to another individual because they need to be responsible drivers, so why don’t we do that with a gun,” Dunkel said. “[However] every state has their own laws.

Generational shifts in priorities have created a rift in thought among Americans. While 40 percent of Americans older than 50 own guns, just 26 percent of adults ages 18-26 do.

Mathematics teacher Troy Thiele grew up in Wausau, Wisconsin, a state where 44.3 percent of households own at least one gun.

“The concept of hunting is something that I’m very familiar with, and knowing or having friends that had guns in their household or their families were into hunting was just an everyday way of life,” Thiele said. “On some level, the perception of what I encountered was more egalitarian, in that I am familiar with people that were opposed to guns and people to whom guns were an important part of their everyday lives and that was okay. I grew up seeing both sides of the coin.”

With the presidential race in full swing, candidates are expressing their concerns on gun control as it is currently a topic of great importance to voters amongst both parties. The response to this action from all sides of the political spectrum has highlighted the differences between Americans’ views on the importance of guns in our culture.

Acknowledging this discord in a CNN town hall meeting two days after his announcement, Obama spoke of the difficulties in coming to a mutual agreement on gun control.

“Part of the reason I think that this ends up being such a difficult issue is because people occupy different realities,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of law-abiding citizens who have grown up hunting with their dad or going to the shooting range, and are responsible gun-owners, and then there’s the reality that there are neighborhoods around the country where it is easier for a 12 or a 13-year-old to purchase a gun and cheaper than it is for them to get a book.”

Newly appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan is from Janesville, Wisconsin, a town that considers hunting and fishing an important pillar of local culture. The politician voiced his concerns with Obama’s view on guns.

“From day one, the President has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding,” Ryan said in a statement.

Jasmine Liu (12), a member of Issues Discussion Club, believes that background checks could mitigate gun violence.

“I think stricter background checks are absolutely necessary and just a common-sense response,” she said. “I think the biggest obstacle to this is undoubtedly gun lobbies and the powerful influence they have over politicians.”

On the other side of this polarized issue, gun advocates point to the Constitution for support.

“I believe that constitutionally-protected rights should stay that way, unless presented with real evidence and reasonable solutions to problems,” Dolan Dworak (10) said.

Chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine participates in recreational skeet-shooting, a sport also featured in the Olympics, in which participants fire shotguns to break clay targets that have been shot into the air, believes that regulations are essential in preventing acts of violence.

“I think that we shouldn’t go Australia from my perspective,” Irvine said, referring to that country’s tough gun laws.

“In fact, I love going skeet-shooting with my dad,” Irvine continued. “If a hobbyist is into it, they should be okay with background checks and extra measures.”

While nearly everyone on both sides of the issue agrees more must be done to fix the gun violence epidemic, major rifts that continue to exist make the chance of clear and effective compromise unlikely any time soon.

“Every state has their own laws,” Dunkel said. “California has some of the strictest gun laws, and yet we still see the violence, we still see the crime, so it’s a very tall order for anybody to figure out,” Dunkel said.

Director of Journalism Ellen Austin, who grew up safely learning how to use firearms, believes that gun owners should not be able to buy assault rifles or other weapons traditionally used by the military.

“Sometimes, as a culture, we all have to give up a little bit so that we can gain greatly, since that is, by definition, what a civilization does,” Austin said. “If we all give up a little for safety, I think we’ll all be healthier. I don’t think we need assault rifles in the bedroom to guarantee a safe America.”

Responsible gun use

Despite the recent use of firearms as weapons of violence, students and faculty can safely and responsibly fire them in recreational settings without harming others.

“Not everyone who owns a gun is a crazy,” chemistry teacher and recreational skeet-shooter Andrew Irvine said. “I think that reasonable gun users should be okay with additional background checks.”

Several firing ranges will require gun users to know a set of safety requirements listed in the National Rifle Association (NRA) Gun Safety Rules.

“The NRA are really excellent at explaining the proper use of guns,” recreational gun enthusiast Alex Sikand (12) said. “I think they have a manual, and one range I went to made you kind of recite them, like the Ten Commandments.”

In order to minimize accidents and prevent injuries, the NRA recommends making sure that the gun is always pointed in whichever direction seems the safest.

Nikhil Parmar (12), who first fired a weapon four years ago at a firing range, follows these protocols. He added that a gun should always be considered as if it is loaded and dangerous.

“We first learned how to, of course, properly handle a gun, always treating a gun as if it is loaded, even if you know it isn’t,” Nikhil said. “That means not pointing it in any direction other than up or down.

The NRA also recommends that firearm users keep their fingers off the trigger until they begin shooting, thereby avoiding misfires and safely using their weapons.

Eagle Scout Naman Jindal (12), who has fired weapons as part of an optional Boy Scouts of America program, said that a large portion of firing a weapon is learning how to use it responsibly.

“You have to complete a whole set of requirements involving gun safety and learning how to shoot accurately,” Naman said.

Gun enthusiasts believe that even though one can remain safe and have fun when at a firing range, guns can be dangerous and should be handled safely according to the rules.

“I think that responsible use at ranges can be fun,” Alex said. “They have recreational use, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still extremely dangerous and they are still capable of killing you,” he said. “Most importantly, again, is to follow the rules.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on Jan. 27, 2016

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