More than twenty years after the Columbine Massacre: Gun Violence is the biggest issue facing American schools


Ava Stone

Gun violence in American schools has been increasing in recent years, spurring anxiety among students and parents alike.

By Chloe Stables, Metea Valley High School

Two teenagers walked into Columbine High School and killed 13 people with assault rifles in 1999. Since the Columbine High School massacre, gun violence in schools has skyrocketed. There have been over 380 school shootings, and more than 352,000 students have experienced gun violence at school according to the Washington Post. While the extent of gun tolerance in America has been an ongoing debate, the frequency of school shootings has made gun violence a much more pressing issue.

Gun violence in America stems from the Second Amendment right which states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Because gun rights are constitutional, effective legislation against gun violence has been difficult to enact.

While President Joe Biden has instituted several strategies to combat gun violence in America such as stepping up law enforcement efforts and cracking down on ghost guns (unregistered guns assembled privately), the country has yet to see a significant change in gun violence rates. According to Pew Research Center, gun deaths among U.S. children and teens have risen 50% in the past two years.

With continual school shootings occurring across the country at alarming rates, The threat of being affected by gun violence at school has become a reality for some teens.

Sophomore Talula Hayes is regularly reminded of the risk of attending school in America.

“Although I have not been directly affected by gun violence, it is a topic that I am incredibly cautious and fearful of,” Hayes said. “Being a student in America, whenever there is an alarm or loud noise, I immediately think it is an intruder with a gun.”

Despite living in a relatively safe community, most teens share the understanding that school shootings can happen anywhere. Fearful of this, Hayes believes that the country’s leniency of gun rights is a major contributor to school shootings.

“Gun violence is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues facing our country right now and it has gotten worse with the abundance of school shootings,” Hayes said. “The expansion of gun rights without proper monitoring is a very dangerous thing, especially because anyone above the age of 18 has access to purchasing weapons.”

Depending on the state, acquiring a gun can be a swift process. Some states require thorough background checks and proper licensing, whereas others simply require paperwork.

In Illinois, as long as an individual is above the age of 21, completed the training course, and has a firearm owner identification, they can purchase a gun. Despite this relatively lengthy process, Junior Krish Saluja has fears of being involved in a mass shooting which fuels his desire for additional gun control laws.

“We need to standardize the process of acquiring guns by making it especially difficult and inconvenient for people to buy guns,” Saluja said. “We need to adopt an ownership model similar to Iceland where buying a gun is an extremely grueling process to avoid any gun-related violence.”

Even though Krish is less concerned with gun violence happening in our community, he still worries about his safety in crowded places. Recent events dealing with gun violence have only reinforced this fear.

“I sometimes feel afraid to be in [public places] such as malls and schools because it is really easy for anyone to bring a gun there. My fear has especially accelerated after the mall shooting at the Allen outlet mall in Texas,” Saluja said. “I have some family in Texas and I visit them often. I just recently visited them during spring break and we even spent multiple hours at the Allen Mall shopping for items. Just knowing that this gun violence event occurred at the Allen Mall not more than a month since I was there, has really shaken me up.”

While not all high schoolers are as concerned about gun violence on a daily basis, gun violence against students of all ages has been a long-standing issue that holds much relevance. For example, the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre would all be in high school today, with some being a part of this year’s graduating class. This reinforces the fact that gun violence can affect anyone at any time. Despite numerous reforms being made following this tragedy in 2012, guns continue to be the leading cause of death among American kids and teens.

With little effective action being taken against gun violence in America, the best thing a school can do to prevent a school shooting is to prepare for all gun-related scenarios. Metea Valley’s school resource officer Jay Leonardi is concerned about school shootings but trusts the district’s priority for safety and security.

“I see a lot of violence happening across the country, so a school shooting is a big concern of mine,” Leonardi said. “Even though the neighborhoods surrounding Metea face less gun violence than other areas, seeing other schools impacted makes me aware that it can happen anywhere. This realization reiterates the focus that we need to train for all situations in case something were to happen.”

According to Leonardi, the police department has a detailed plan and requires extensive training to prepare for a school-related gun violence incident.

“If there were gun violence at school, we [the police department] would have police officers responding not just from Aurora, but from surrounding communities. This past summer, we prepared with our SWAT team and trained with them in the school,” Leonardi said. “Additionally, we have access to helpful equipment, and I work with other schools in the district year-round to discuss trends we are seeing among students.”

The Indian Prairie School District staff have also been trained through an active shooter training program known as ALICE. This program is a civilian active shooter response that teaches 5 important steps to keep students and staff safe: alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate. Despite the school being prepared for all possible scenarios, Leonardi believes the best way for to prevent a school shooting is for students to report dangerous or threatening behavior before it is too late.

“My message to high schoolers is that if you see something, say something,” Leonardi said. “If you are aware of anybody that has access to firearms or engages in suspicious behavior, contact your local police department immediately. The police officers in your area are constantly working with the safety director at the district office to come up with new ways to keep our school safe. We hope that students feel just as obligated to maintain school safety.”

Leonardi believes that It is vital students notice and disclose any alarming behavior. After all, more than half of all school shootings are committed by a current or former student according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In recent studies, it has also been proven that mental health and drug use may drive some students to commit harmful acts. The Columbia University Department of Psychiatry found that 23% of mass shootings are associated with substance use while 25% are associated with neurological illnesses, including depression.

School psychiatrist Lisa Aguilar is a part of the effort to maintain a safe learning environment. To do this, she leads a team of staff members, consisting of the resource officer, school dean, administrator, social workers, and counselors to gather information on potential dangers and offer mental health resources.

“When we receive student reports on alarming behavior, we take those very seriously,” Aguilar said. “To determine whether or not something is a threat, we conduct interviews and get statements from family, teachers, and other students. We also look at disciplinary history, grades, and teacher reports for patterns, concerns, or behavioral changes. We compile this information to assess and provide resources to the student’s family so that they can seek help.”

If a student were intent on inflicting harm on either themself or others, the school’s mental health coordinator would help with the hospitalization and recovery process. While Aguilar urges students to utilize the tools at their disposal, she also encourages students or parents to use the Safe to Help hotline or contact local authorities to report their concerns.

Despite schools working diligently to prevent violence and orchestrating plans to prepare for gun violence incidents, there have been over 22 school shootings this year that have resulted in mass injuries and death.

Whether the solution to gun violence is implementing stricter gun control laws, requiring more police/staff training, or applying more comprehensive mental health resources in schools, until the country finds a permanent way to end gun violence, the threat of school shootings will always be looming.

This story was originally published on Metea Media on May 27, 2023.