“The year was 1965. My brother and I attended a small country school. It was not uncommon for students to drive to school with weapons on gun-racks in pickup trucks. Rifles, shotguns, and pistols of all shapes and sizes could be found in the parking lot. Often, there was ammunition in the same vehicles, especially during hunting season. It was commonplace to go to the parking lot at recess and look at and hold a weapon, teachers and the principal, too. It was not a problem, as long as the firearms stayed in the parking lot. There were never threats or jokes made about using a weapon to harm other students. It was weird, it was different, it was nonthreatening. Today, my heart stops at the thought of a student carrying a weapon to school,” explains John W., a local father and grandfather while discussing the topic of children, guns, and schools.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 1,300 children are killed by firearms every year and another 5,790 children are injured by gunfire. Louisiana is fourth in the nation for firearm related deaths. According to Giffords Law Center, Louisiana has no minimum age requirement to possess rifles or shotguns, but the state prevents children under the age of 17 from knowingly possessing a handgun. Our state also has no laws preventing children from having access to firearms.
Giffords’ Child Access Prevention document reports, “4.6 million minors in the US live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. Many children know where their parents keep their guns and have accessed household guns–even if their parents think otherwise. 73 percent of children under age 10 living in homes with guns reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms, and 36 percent admitted they had handled the weapons.”
Hands on Guns
Only one third of firearm owners report storing their firearms unloaded and locked, which lends itself to easy access for children to get their hands on the unlocked weapons. Children who don’t have access to firearms at their homes often look to other resources to get the guns, such as friends and snooping around the homes of friends.
“Kids have expressed to me that the majority of the time, they need a weapon for their protection. They will tell you that they are hot on the streets, meaning someone trying to kill them,” shares Captain Margie Davis Lias with the School Drug Task Force. “Some of the children breed a mentality that if they live in a neighborhood where there is gunfire all of the time, they should have a gun. They have stated that they can get a gun anywhere, and it is as easy as buying candy.
During our investigations, they have stated that three or four of them [kids] literally go to a neighborhood, walk down the street at two or three in the morning, pulling on car doors looking for unlocked vehicles. They refer to that as ‘car surfing’.”
However, kids will also go online. Strictly speaking, Letgo and Craigslist prohibit the sale of firearms on their sites, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other sites that children can access. There are also rumors of work-arounds on the popular sites, including using codewords and phrases.
Most firearms obtained by children are taken from relatives’ or friends’ homes or stolen. Because most kids know they are not supposed to have guns, there are a lot of pseudonyms or code words used to discuss them. General terms include: strap, burner, heat, heater, handle, grip, pipe, can, hammer, piece, tool, ratchet, blicky, thang, jawn, chrome, metal, iron, arm, banger, biscuit, flamer, get, llama, steel, nose, toner, tone, instrument, scorcher, thumper, and jammy. Other, more caliber specific terms include: m&m, four-pound, fever, Tre, deuce, Emmit Smith, and a fifty. Brand or type specific terms include: firestick, boomstick, marty-grizzle, grizzle, Elmer Fudd, Fudd, walking-stick, cane, bird, and machine.
Bringing the Guns to School
Students who have been asked about having a gun on school grounds have reported various reasons why. The top reason students are bringing firearms to school was reported as protection.
Students who are victims of bullying are far more likely to bring firearms to school. Some students reported wanting to use the firearm to gain respect from peers, others just wanted to show the gun to their friends, a misguided show and tell. There are also students who have access to and possession of a firearm outside of school and don’t remember to leave it when they come to school.
Local high school teacher, Mandy G. shares about a time she found a gun on her school campus, “We did sporadic book bag checks. I was on the team looking through the kids’ bags. I reached my hand in and felt the handgun. I was so scared and confused. My mind was racing as I asked the student to move toward the security guard and I had to get the gun to the principal without alerting other students to the presence of the gun. The student who brought the gun was a good kid, pretty quiet, kept to himself. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t had the book check. When the student was interviewed, he said that he didn’t realize that the gun was in his book sack. He was so used to carrying the firearm outside of school that he didn’t realize he’d brought it onto campus. Oddly, we had a potential teacher on campus that day who was interviewing for a teaching position at the school. When he found out that we did book bag checks, he left stating that he felt that checking the students’ bags was a violation of their privacy.”
Although there is no way to quantify the amount of guns entering school campuses, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that during the 2016-17 school year, guns were brought to or possessed on school campuses 3,300 times.
Communication with your children about gun safety is the first step in keeping them gun safe. ProjectChildSafe.org offers suggestions and resources for parents, including identifying where gun owners can receive free gun locks. Included on their website is their S.A.F.E. strategy: Store firearms responsibly-Always practice firearm safety-Focus on your responsibility as a firearm owner and-Education is key to preventing accidents.
Children are likely to be curious about guns. Take advantage of this curiosity by teaching gun safety. Children are more likely to act in an extreme way when they are in a mental health crisis. Parents can look for these signs that their child needs support: rapid mood swings, excessively tired or unable to sleep, self-isolation, appetite change, and unusual agitation. ■