Ed. Note: In the debate around gun violence, no one group is impacted and implicated more than youth and young adults. Over the past several weeks NAM youth reporters from across the state have been speaking with their peers about how they experience gun violence in their neighborhoods. Those conversations convey clear gender and regional differences in the way young people experience and think about guns, yet point to an emerging consensus that youth want to see their peers give up the gun; that far from making them feel safer, guns are a root cause of the growing climate of fear and insecurity they feel in the classroom and on the streets.
The following video consists of interviews with students at Jordan High School in Long Beach, who were asked to weigh in on the debate over armed security on school campuses. The two accompanying commentaries offer perspectives from two Bay Area young women, on why young men are the most likely to perpetrate and be victims of gun violence. The sidebar is a collection of youth voices from Merced, Calif.
Young Men With Guns Don't Value My Life
Alicia Marie, San Francisco
I wasn't raised around guns, period. My experience with guns is limited to the fact that they took the lives of my favorite entertainers -- first the singer Selena, who I absolutely adored and wanted to be just like when I got older; later on it was my first crush, Tupac Shakur. So the viewpoint I’ve held consistently ever since I was a child is that guns are evil.
When the boys I was with had guns, they would tell me, "Don't worry, I got my backup in case things go bad." My own brother once told me, "415 4 every 1 of mine, we taking 5 of theirs." That type of talk didn't appeal to me or make me feel safe -- it actually made me feel that the person saying those words was ignorant and didn't value their own life.
In Merced, Gun Culture 'Heavy'
Alyssa, 19: Growing up, I usually had a relative that was on probation or parole living with us, so that allowed law enforcement to search and seize our house without a warrant. Living in a home where house raids were common, my first experiences with guns began at a young age. My two older brothers are also gang affiliated, so having guns in the house or talk of where to get them wasn’t uncommon.
Kalvin, 17: When I was little, the cops shot at my grandma’s house because of my dad and my uncle. It was like a shoot out. Another time, when I was a baby, a rival gang member shot at my house and a bullet [hit my dad] in the eye -- thank God he’s still living! I don’t care how, but we need to stop gun violence.
Austin, 18: I live in a neighborhood that was [recently designated] Section 8. Last year, a student from Merced High School was murdered in my neighborhood in a shooting. Now with dangers like this, it is necessary for people to get protection legally. This is one of the reasons I plan to own a gun legally when I come of age.
Ana, 16: Nowadays, the only guns I’m aware of are my uncle's. He gets them pretty easy. He also takes my 11-year-old cousin to the gun range with him. I don’t think she should be allowed there. Besides all that, I believe that here in Merced guns are heavy with all the gang violence.
Lisa, 16: I constantly hear gunshots and at school classmates brag about them! One day I was lying down at home when all of a sudden I heard what sounded like wooden planks falling onto each other. My mom and I investigated the house for a bit, then we heard sirens outside. Apparently, someone was shooting at a person standing in front of our house and they missed. What if that bullet went through or shot my cat!
Boys carry guns because they feel they cannot defend themselves on their own strength alone. They believe that since "everyone else has them, I need one too." But why even put yourself in a situation of needing to constantly be on the defensive, feeling like at any moment someone might attack you? If that’s the case, you need to watch who you’re associating with.
When I get off of work, which is usually around 11pm at night, I have to walk through the violent streets of the Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco. Every time a car goes by, I’m thinking, “That car could mistake me for someone else and shoot me." By the time I run home it’s midnight, and I'm exhausted from my thoughts. But I don't feel the solution is to go get a gun or be with a boy who has a gun, to get home safe. It’s not that I think girls are incapable of learning how to use guns. I would just hope that we wouldn't want to use them -- guns have a purpose, and the main one is to take lives or hurt someone. I’d rather take my chances at being safe by not carrying a weapon, but knowing that I won’t unnecessarily or accidentally take away somebody else’s precious life.
As young women, we can play a role in getting men in our community to give up their guns. We have a way of talking and reasoning to make a point, and if we were to explain to our brothers, boyfriends, cousins, uncles, and fathers the benefits of giving up their guns, and help them to do it, we could help curb these senseless murders.
And the point we need to make is this: We have to realize that people in our community have grown accustomed to using guns to settle matters. For example, if you have a headache, the first thing you’re going to want to do is take an aspirin -- it just comes natural. Likewise, guns have become the natural way to defend and settle matters in the streets; the understood way of responding to anger. So, we can make these crimes less frequent by giving the community alternative ways to deal with anger. And in doing so, we can make people who carry guns around seem ignorant and old-fashioned. We can make the alternative the new normal.
Young Men Need Guns to Feel Safer, But They're Not
Keyannie Norford, 17, Richmond
Click, clack, boom! There are a lot of things going on in today’s society, where it seems that guns are a necessity for living day to day, especially in the ‘hoods of Richmond, California, where turf wars, robberies -- even a case of mistaken identity -- can bring you face to face with a gun. But do guns really provide safety? As a girl, I can say I do not believe they make women feel safer. I believe guns are accidents waiting to happen, and they pose a threat like no other.
There are not many women I know of, other than those in law enforcement, that are actually trained to use a gun. Women are capable of learning, but it's all about the will of the individual. She has to want to know how to use it. Whether for protection, survival or any other reason, when it comes down to it, it's an individual choice. Women who own a gun may say, “Well, it’s for protection and if a situation erupts where I need protection, then it will be done.”
In the situations that I’ve seen, though, they didn’t actually use it. They just took it out or held it up to scare the other person. I have seen situations in which young women were nervous to handle a gun. They will be sweating; their hands will be trembling, their fingers twitchy.
Now when it comes to men and boys, guns get justified in many ways. Guns play a part in a man’s status, even though they may have never really handled one. Having a gun seems to be the “cool” and “modern” thing, especially here in Richmond. In reality, most males, young and old, possess guns for protection. I do know someone who protected himself and someone else because he carried. Males are fighting each other everyday over turfs, colors and gang signs, which means they have to protect the ones they care about, as well as themselves. It's almost as if carrying a gun has become a necessity in these boy’s eyes -- some type of unrevealed phobia.
For example, if they didn’t carry a gun, then they’d be afraid and paranoid about everything happening around them, thinking, “If today was the day someone decided to come after me, I'd be defenseless, and that could possibly cost me my life.” For young men, having a gun is the only way to protect themselves in this horrid generation, and it adds to their manhood. They simply need guns to stay on their “Boss Status,” for protection or just to prove a point. Living in the communities we're subject to now-a-days, it's survival of the fittest. There's violence everyday and only the protected live, which is sad, but it happens to be young man’s reality.
I do believe that women can try to influence young men to give up guns and with that, possibly save them from a life of uncertainty. But in today’s society it's just not going to work. The rate of violence is too high among men living the “thug-life “ for them to feel safe without their form of protection. But in the end, boys and men have to want to walk away from the violence as much as a young woman wants to play a role in stopping it before it possibly starts -- which goes to the choice of carrying a gun. I'm not sure exactly how we can get to a community with fewer guns, but I feel that as soon as young people and men see and feel that there is no reason to be afraid and carry weapons, then there will be fewer guns because there will be no need.
This story was compiled by reporters from NAM youth media projects, including Richmond Pulse, We'Ced in Merced, and VoiceWaves in Long Beach. Artwork courtesy of The Beat Within.