During my freshman year at Emory, I visited a Waffle House in Decatur where I saw an elderly man with two guns draped across his shoulders. No one seemed to mind. He was so casual and those around him moved with such ease and without an air of concern. However responsible this man may have been or innocent his intentions, his presence serves as an overwhelming example of how easily accessible and welcome guns are in many public places.

Since 1982, 934 people in the United States have been killed in mass shootings. Mass shootings — or multiple homicide incidents that claim four or more victims — have caused 391 deaths in the last five years, and 564 in the last 10. These shootings have shaped a new reality for younger Americans trying to live normal lives, as attacks have plagued concerts, stores and schools. The ability for current high school and college students to legally obtain guns has destabilized one of the most crucial safe zones for children in the country. Though many Americans believe gun ownership to be just as significant a right as free speech, the freedom to send children to school without the fear of death cannot be overstated. The U.S. leads the world in many fields, but gun deaths should not be one. It is up to voting Americans to push for this change at the ballot box and challenge U.S. lawmakers to follow in the steps of other countries and totally ban guns from the public. 

The right to own a gun in the U.S. is often protected by politicians who blame poor mental health for mass shootings or fail to question how the Constitution is interpreted. Recently, President Donald J. Trump emphasized the role of mental health on gun violence, stating, “I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem,” when discussing potential gun control legislation. A similar rationale could be seen in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, as then Republican candidate Brian Kemp insisted that his school safety initiatives have “nothing to do with Second Amendment protections or gun control ideas.” 

Some Georgia politicians have taken steps to make the state safer, as Democrats in the General Assembly have proposed bills to promote background checks and to ban concealed carry at certain public places, such as public school functions. However, none of these bills go far enough to challenge the status quo of normalized gun ownership in Georgia. 

Without better public policy, Georgia lawmakers risk sending the state’s children to unsafe schools. Researchers in a 2015 study on mass killings and school shootings highlight that childhood gun deaths are five times greater in the U.S. than in other similarly developed countries. The study also shows that, of the children under the age of 14 who were killed by firearms in 2006-2013, 87 percent lived in the U.S. — less than 5 percent of the world’s children call the U.S. home. In Georgia, the firearm death rate is more than 3 percent greater than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate of gun deaths in the U.S. displays a severe disconnect between what the founding fathers wrote in the Constitution and how we now interpret the so-called living document, as modern Americans have interpreted the Second Amendment as an excuse to purchase guns for personal recreation rather than protection and self-preservation. There is no longer a critical need for public gun ownership, and disagreement continues to grow regarding gun control. The U.S. should follow in the steps of countries like the United Kingdom that have outrightly banned the possession of arms.

School shootings are almost foreign to students in countries with gun bans, but American students watch on news programs as their peers are brutally murdered in schools or universities approximately every 31.6 days. Our educators are forced to decide how to split their time between teaching and supervising drills to train students to react properly to active shooters. Funding and classroom space now belong to police officers in schools, and, as we saw in Parkland, Fla., these individuals are not always effective in crises. The American education system has had to adjust its practices not to better student’s intellectual needs, but to try to protect their lives. Gun control is the optimal way to keep our youth safe, and it’s up to both voters and lawmakers to end the crisis.

In a time where polarization is at an all-time high and compromise can barely be found in the American political arena, prioritizing the protection of American students from gun violence would demonstrate that our country can still come together on important issues. But this can only be done through increased political participation by regular Americans. Students who are able to vote should take on more active roles by contacting representatives at all levels — not just federal, but also local and state. Having grown up in an era of extreme gridlock and ineffective legislation, young adults often fail to recognize the importance of political participation in getting through to politicians. However, if we want to see more direct change in our home states and towns, then we will have to demand it at the source. The need for gun reform has been building for decades, but it cannot happen without constituents’ willingness to pressure lawmakers for change in both legislative and political compromise. 

By the time this article was ready for publication, four students were shot at Clark Atlanta University.

Ciara Murphy (21C) is from Belmont, Mass.