Published 7:00 AM EDT Sep 7, 2018
The deadly shooting late last month at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, was yet another reminder of the daily threat of gun violence in America. People should be able to take part in activities they enjoy — like playing video games — without having to worry about the possibility of being shot.
As a high school junior, I’ve grown up with frequent gun violence as the norm. It’s terrifying. When a fire alarm goes off at my school, I don’t smell for smoke — I wonder if there’s a shooter a classroom away. The threat of gun violence isn’t abstract to me or other students across America.
Now, if the Trump administration has its way, the danger of gun violence in our schools could be ever present. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering allowing states to use federal funding to purchase guns for teachers. As a black student in America, I know all too well how such a proposal would amplify the biases students of color already contend with in and out of our schools on a daily basis.
Racial discrimination in the classroom
Studies show that both black boys and girls are falsely perceived as less innocent than their white peers. Sadly, these biases follow kids of color into the classroom, where we are more likely to face disciplinary action than our white peers. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that black students were disproportionately disciplined in K-12 public schools across the country.
The National Women’s Law Center reported that black girls are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. Meanwhile, 20 percent of black male students receive out-of-school suspensions compared to only 6 percent of white male students.
Additionally, the New York Civil Liberties Union found that 99 percent of children who were handcuffed in New York City public schools were black or Latino.
These arrests, suspensions and expulsions fuel the “school-to-prison pipeline” directly and indirectly, and students of color are disproportionately impacted at every point in the pipeline, resulting in devastating and far-reaching impacts. So what will happen when our teachers are armed?
The dangers of downloadable guns
But that’s not all.
As a result of a legal settlement made by the government, a firm is able to distribute plans that would enable anyone to make a gun using a 3D printer. The firm is being challenged again and cannot make the plans downloadable online, but these guns are completely untraceable and could be made entirely out of plastic, meaning they would be largely undetectable by metal detectors. Anyone with access to a 3D printer — including convicted felons, terrorists, and domestic abusers — would be able to build one, no questions asked.
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If you think it’s hard to get access to a 3D printer, think again. There’s one in my school, and in many public schools across the country.
The 3D printer in my school is supposed to be a tool for education. It helps our robotics team build their skills and develop an understanding of a cutting-edge technology. For those who want to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), this printer can help them get started on their career path. Now I worry it will become a tool for violence.
If our elected leaders are serious about keeping students safe at school, deadly, downloadable guns shouldn’t be up for debate. Arming our teachers shouldn’t be either. Gun violence has affected the lives of countless young people — not just in Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine, but every day in towns and cities across the country. It’s already devastated too many schools, communities and families.
Firearm injuries are the second leading cause of death for American children and teenagers aged 1 to 19, according to Everytown for Gun Safety's analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. For black children and teens in the same age range, it’s the first leading cause of death, so we must be part of the solution.
Across the country, Students Demand Action volunteers like me are calling Congress and demanding a stop to downloadable guns and arming our teachers. Both of these proposals will make school more dangerous — particularly for students of color.
Congress must act to stop these proposals that put our lives at risk. If they won’t stand up for our safety, we’ll stand up to vote them out in November.
Ryan Pascal is a high school junior at Palos Verdes High School in Palos Verdes, California, and a volunteer leader with Students Demand Action.