Ed. Note: Having absorbed a week’s worth of news coverage and analyses about last Friday’s school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, teenagers from a youth group in another small town -- Merced, California -- recently gathered to share their own reflections. A rural community in the heart of California’s Central Valley, Merced is both economically poor and ethnically diverse. And unlike Newtown, residents here are not strangers to violent crime, which occurs at a rate 40 percent higher than the national average.
The nine high school students whose comments appear below are members of We’Ced, a youth media group supported by New America Media. Their comments, calling for stricter gun purchasing laws, also echo those of some, including the National Rifle Association, in wanting to see tighter school security.
“I believe that this could have been prevented by arming the schools with a few policemen or right away [if they had] made an announcement throughout the school about what was happening, for teachers and staff to lock their doors. This is America’s wake up call and it has opened the eyes of a lot of people [that] this can happen at anytime and in any place. Our local and national leaders should make alternative ways for safety and strongly enforce them in schools.”
“I think the school shooting is crazy, actually, it makes me angry. I remember my teacher telling me and instantly it ruined my day. I don’t think it could have been prevented because these things happen no matter what. You can prepare yourself for what is coming but it is still coming. Our leaders should make our schools safer by having metal detectors or dogs we can train and let out, if someone comes. It should be something unsuspected and different for each school.”
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry about their kids’ safety while they are in school. Having background checks when people buy guns can definitely help to prevent violence. People who have already engaged in violence are more likely to do it again. The problem in this incident was that the individual had access to guns. A person may have legally bought a gun and use it wisely but that is useless if someone who isn’t fit to use a weapon has access to it. Leaders need to find ways to prevent this. Background checks should be mandatory when someone buys a gun.”
“I think this is one of the most devastating incidents that have happened in my lifetime. To me, it’s not horrible because people got shot and died; I mean, people die all the time. It’s horrible because it was done to what I believe are angels. The kids were from five to ten years old. That means they only got a few years to live and were not given the chance to grow up and experience beautiful things like graduating middle school, going to camp and finding their first girlfriend or boyfriend. I remember all of that stuff, all of that made a difference in my life and I just can’t imagine the pain their families are going through.
I don’t think such a thing as this could have ever been prevented. Maybe this was meant to be -- maybe this happened so that the people governing America have to make drastic changes in the way they are running this country… our country.”
“There’s a lot of laws/rules we can make to prevent this but it’s not really going to stop. People are stealing, getting a hold of drugs, underage kids are getting alcohol; so making it harder to get a gun won’t stop the determined. Our local leaders can surround all these places [that] these so-called cowards go to kill as many people as possible with gates and lock them, especially schools. The gates at my school are always open. It makes it easy for anyone to go in or out.”
“If the school had a better security system they could’ve probably completely avoided the situation. If schools had magnetic cards students and staff had to use to get on campus then you wouldn’t have an intruder. Also, if the school was armed itself, sometimes you gotta fight fire with fire. I believe that our local and national leaders should really consider making schools higher security. Making escape routes or more effective drills. People need to know how serious this is. You say, ‘Thank God it wasn’t me,’ but it would be tomorrow, or the next day, week or month, you never know.”
“I think that this was a very horrible incident that is not the first of it’s kind and won’t be the last. I think it could have been prevented with a few more precautionary measures to help before, during and after this happens within the school. What I think should be done is more armed personnel at schools, better lock down tactics. Safety zones built throughout the campus and classrooms. Just because you make a law doesn’t mean it will be followed. People everyday find ways around the law. I mean honestly, do you think that someone who wants to kill will be worried about the law against them owning a gun?”
“I think it could have been prevented by having people outside to see who went in or out of the school. I also think locking doors at all times should be available and you should knock every time you go out. Our leaders should have more security against the people with guns and knives, stuff that could be beneficial to someone trying to cause harm. More security at any public places would be good instead of just having police on the streets.”
A version of this story first appeared on We’Ced, a magazine showcasing youth voices from Merced, Calif.
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