On Dec. 21, 2016 — seven days after the fourth anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook — Gov. John Kasich signed a bill allowing concealed carry at colleges, daycares, and public areas of airports across the state of Ohio. As a survivor of gun violence and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin — a university that was recently forced to allow guns on campus — there are many reasons why I find this deeply troubling.
My 6-year-old brother, Noah, was killed in his first-grade classroom in Sandy Hook, Connecticut on Dec.14, 2012. Nineteen of his classmates and peers were also killed that day, in addition to six devoted educators. There are no words to explain the despair I feel knowing that my brother never got a chance. That he was killed in one of the places he was supposed to be safest, just three weeks after his sixth birthday. That my bright, mischievous, smart, inquisitive brother would not get to grow up with his twin sister, his two older sisters, or his older brother, all because of a weapon that he should’ve been protected from.
The act of violence that claimed my brother’s life, along with those of 25 other innocents was, is, and always will be beyond comprehension. But, though each and every individual loss is unique, this type of violence is far from an isolated incident. Gun violence has become an epidemic in the U.S., claiming the lives of 33,000 Americans annually — not just in schools, but on the streets of Chicago and other urban areas, in malls, in movie theaters, in office buildings, in private residences, and in countless other settings.
In the weeks, months, and years since Sandy Hook, some have argued that armed teachers would have been able to take down the gunman and save my brother, his classmates, and his teachers. This argument is both unrealistic and misguided. The teachers at Sandy Hook were there to do just that: teach. They were not soldiers; they did not sign up to work in a battlefield. They were there to educate children and shape young minds in a safe, nurturing environment. While we certainly can’t protect our children from everything, adding more guns into the equation is not the answer. It is horrifying to think that loaded guns, concealed or not, may soon be allowed around children in Ohio daycare centers.
I was in my junior year at the University of Texas at Austin when the Texas lawmakers voted to enact SB-11 — a bill that, like the one Gov. Kasich signed in Ohio, legalized concealed carry on college campuses across the state of Texas. Working as a volunteer for a group called Texas Gun Sense, I helped pass out flyers on campus and was shocked to learn how few students were aware that the bill even existed. While at the Texas Capitol listening to testimony and preparing to submit my own, I heard the argument again: that in the event of a mass shooting, those carrying would be able to save themselves and their fellow students from a gunman. Despite testimony to the contrary, lawmakers ultimately voted to enact the bill, much to the shock and dismay of UT students and faculty.
In the weeks that followed, I spoke to some of my fellow students and learned that many of them were anxious and horrified at the prospect of having guns essentially forced into their lecture halls and classrooms. I imagine thousands of college students in Ohio now feel the same way. Our nation’s youth, whether they are young children in daycare or in elementary school or young adults in college, deserve to feel safe while they learn. Guns simply don’t belong in an educational setting.
In a traditional open carry state like Ohio, citizens are already taking a gamble with their safety in public spaces. Recently, while visiting family in Ohio, my grandparents went food shopping with my uncle at a local Costco. My uncle inadvertently began pushing a cart that wasn’t theirs, and when he turned to the man whose cart it was to apologize, the man tapped his belt underneath his jacket and said, “That’s okay, I’ve put my gun back already.” It may have been a joke, but there was no way to know for sure: in a state where open carry is permitted, such a statement from a complete stranger is highly unsettling.
There is so much more we can do to keep guns out of the wrong hands while simultaneously protecting Second Amendment rights — but more guns in more public places is not the answer. During his presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump vowed multiple times to eliminate gun-free zones in schools during his first 100 days in office. Over the next four years, it is possible that we will see more bills like the one in Ohio. It is my hope that lawmakers will decide to put students’ safety first.