The first time I ever shot a gun was at the age of fifteen. Far from being a casual experience, it was the culmination of an entire year’s training in drill and safe weapons handling in the British cadets. We were on a safe range, within a secured compound on an army base, and we had gone through endless tests and simulations before getting to that point. Even so, despite all the preparation, the force that punched into my shoulder from the butt of my rifle as I fired was astounding and shocking. I, still to this day, distinctly remember the wary concern with which I considered the tremendously powerful and fatal weapon nestled in my arms. Notwithstanding how accustomed I was with that British Army rifle by then, I found it hard to comprehend, and ultimately feared, the catastrophic destructive potential that its mechanisms possessed.
I never played violent video games when I was younger – not because of any rules that my parents might have set, but rather due to apathy for that rage-filled genre. So it was a shock to me when I took the DCCT (a simulated firing range test) during the same week that I spent as a CCF cadet at Larkhill camp, Salisbury Plain, and even more of a shock when I received the highest marksmanship marks in my contingent. The test, which involved electronic carbon copies of our rifles that we had to cock, unblock and fire at a large wall of screens before us, and reload just as if it were the real thing, was the ultimate true-to-life military game. Whilst it started with bright yellow targets to shoot at, and slowly escalated to popping rapid-fire shots in the direction of fleeting animated squirrels and gophers, the DCCT eventually transformed into a warzone, where we were transported through a mock-up of an urban settlement in Afghanistan, and told to fire at turban-clad animated men who were raining gunshots down at our camera position.
Before I knew it, I was taking aimed shots at simulated humans, loading, aiming, shooting with the highest efficiency and precision in my contingent. When we were done, and my name shone above the rest on the screen, I felt no less than pride. However, as time has passed, my ideas have changed. I am no longer in the cadets, and now it is peace that I value so strongly. It frightens me that I, simply a standard teenager, have the potential to cause such devastation if I ever got my hands on a firearm. What if another wayward teen – one who has more difficulty distinguishing differences between the false, electronic figures that confronted me in the DCCT and a real flesh-and-blood living human – were to have access to a tool of such great harm and, whether due to frustrations or abuse or whatever factor, channel that great potential for destruction toward those around them?
Police at Sandy Hook. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, it seems that my fear is a simple fact of life in the US. Whilst I live in the UK, where it is illegal to possess a firearm without being certified, there are nearly enough guns in America for there to be one for every man, woman, and child. Many argue this as a good thing, and flout the Second Amendment, yet the statistics seem a threat. As of February 14, 2018, there have been over 30 American mass shootings in the new year. Furthermore, since 2013 the country has seen 231 school shootings – teens just like me, or the other Affinity writers, getting shot or shooting at the school campuses on which they are supposed to seem the safest.
Most recently, and very unfortunately, the US and the world have been shocked by yet another shooting on a school campus – the Florida school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School claimed the lives of 17 innocents. Perhaps, had the nineteen-year-old perpetrator, Nikolas Cruz, not had access to a firearm, these lives would have never been lost. That is not to say, however, that other policies such as monitoring and maintaining positive mental health in schools are not also needed in conjunction to assist in reducing the amount of deaths and murders.
In Britain, the most recent and only comparable school shooting the country has faced was the Dunblane massacre in 1996, after which two gun control and restriction laws were passed with popular support to avoid such a tragedy ever happening again. Due to the significance of guns in American culture, history, and politics, perhaps, no significant new gun laws have been passed. Bill Bratton, former New York police chief, referred to the current surge of shootings as a “new normal” – showing complacency and seemingly helplessness, which seems dangerously close to the nation reaching stages of resignation and acceptance. This remark came in reaction to the revelation that, in 2018 so far, 18 school shootings have occurred – putting them on an average of one every 60 hours.
In the end, many lives are being cut short in America, by this uniquely American issue. The US must look to other countries for ways to deal with school shootings, but, most of all, must take care to prevent teenagers from being able to arm themselves. After all, teenagers are dangerous individuals – I know, I am one.
Images: Wikimedia Commons
Featured Image: St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office (Wikimedia Commons)