This story was published on L.A. Youth.
By: Susie Park
I was checking my email after school on Friday, Dec. 14 when I saw a headline saying that there was a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I immediately clicked the link and read that 20 little kids along with six faculty members were shot and killed by a 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza. I was shocked. Then I told my mom, who said, “Why children? There are so many crazy people in the world.”
The rest of the weekend felt like it was following a script. My Facebook newsfeed filled with prayers and messages expressing grief. Then the President made a speech about how we’re all sad and how we need to do something to make sure that shootings like this never happen again.
This was just like what happened after similar shootings in Tucson in 2011 and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, this past summer. These shootings received lots of attention from newspapers and television and I’d read lots of coverage online. The shootings started to feel so common to me that they didn’t scare or surprise me anymore. The fact that I expect one or two shootings a year is scary and that bothers me a lot.
The first shooting I remember happened when I was in fourth grade. A gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech. At the time I wondered how the person got the gun, because I didn’t think people were allowed to own guns. I’d never seen anyone with a gun except a cop. I went online and searched “Are guns allowed in America?” and found out that it was legal for people to own guns.
I was surprised. To me, guns were for heroes and villains in action movies. Why would anyone need to own a gun? I was only nine and I was scared that someone would shoot me. But then I thought, “This just happened this one time. It won’t happen again, right?”
I was wrong. I live in Koreatown, which is about four miles west of downtown Los Angeles. After the shooting at Virginia Tech, someone got shot near my apartment. And one day when I was in sixth grade, I noticed that the police had blocked the street I was on and few minutes later I heard a police officer yell into a megaphone, “You’re surrounded. Come out of the apartment.” These blockades seem to happen once or twice a year. Also in middle school there was the time that a man with a gun was in the building of my after-school program. Helicopters surrounded the building and the police didn’t let anyone in or out. Even though I knew that the police were there, being locked inside that building knowing that a man with a gun was on the loose terrified me.
It felt like shootings were happening too often. There was the Virginia Tech massacre, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords getting shot in the head and six others killed in Tucson, and then this summer James Holmes shooting and killing 12 people and injuring 59 people in a Colorado movie theater.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, I thought, “Why don’t politicians try to prevent this from happening again?”
Two days later my aunt who lives in South Korea called. “Aren’t you scared to live in America?” she asked. “It seems like people die from guns every day there.”
“Not really, but it does frighten me a little.” I said, “Don’t they have guns in Korea too?”
“No, we don’t,” she said. I was surprised by her answer. Since a lot of Americans owned guns, I assumed people in other countries did too. I researched more online and discovered that many countries don’t allow citizens to own guns or they have much stricter laws about who can own them and the type of guns people can buy.
South Korea, where citizens are not allowed to own guns, and Japan, which has very strict gun control laws, have two of the lowest firearm death rates in the world. In 2008, more than 12,000 Americans were killed in gun-related homicides, while only 11 people were killed in Japan, which has about one third the population of the United States.
To get a gun in Japan you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test. You also must pass a shooting range class. Then you undergo a mental health examination and drug test. And you must not have a criminal record. Once you own the gun you must also document for police where you keep the gun in your home, as well as the ammunition, both of which must be locked and stored separately.
Seeing how hard it was to get a gun in Japan, I looked up California’s laws. I learned that in California you don’t have to tell the police where you keep your guns or where you keep the ammo. I wished our laws were more like Japan’s.
If these countries can do it, why not America? Gun rights groups’ have argued that banning guns is unconstitutional because the Second Amendment in the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to own guns. I wish that we got rid of all guns in this country, but I know that won’t happen. But I think we should at least make gun control laws similar to what they have in Japan or Australia.
In 1996 in Australia a shooter using two assault rifles killed 35 people. After that Australian banned assault weapons. There hasn’t been a mass shooting since.
Assault rifles were used by the shooters in Aurora and Newtown. These types of weapons are very dangerous and should be banned. Nobody needs an assault weapon to protect themselves or go hunting.
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