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Student Voices Chime in on Preventing School Shootings

February 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the wake of the Newtown shootings, high school students who participate in NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs from all across the country shared their views on the gun debate in a Google Hangout moderated by Hari Sreenivasan.
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RAY SUAREZ: Now a different perspective on guns and public safety from young people who participate in the “NewsHour”‘s Student Reporting Labs program.

And again to Hari Sreenivasan.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We brought together high school students from around the country into a Google Hangout to talk about recent gun proposals that affect schools, the connection between video games and violence and what can be done to prevent mass shootings like the one that took place in Newtown, Conn. We asked them about recent proposals, such as arming teachers.

Jacqueline Mears is from Magnolia, Texas.

JACQUELINE MEARS, Magnolia, Texas: I wouldn’t trust a teacher who’s trained to teach to protect me. We also have three armed constables all our school. And I would trust constables. And I would trust somebody that is trained to protect me to protect me. So I feel safe with the constables, and I feel like they can do the job better than a teacher that’s armed.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Spencer Baldwin is from Shenandoah, Iowa, a place he describes as a rural community with many hunters and farmers.

SPENCER BALDWIN, Shenandoah, Iowa: A lot of our teachers are already gun owners. They have conceal and carry permits. They have been trained to do that kind of thing. And I think that having one in every classroom wouldn’t necessarily be a danger to the students at all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Students also talked about the changes they have seen since Newtown. Many oft schools are increasing restrictions on who can enter the school, times that kids can go off campus, and they’re trying to keep individuals from walking the halls alone.

SaDarius Clayton is from Las Vegas, Nev.

SADARIUS CLAYTON, Las Vegas, Nev.: Our school has implemented a closed school campus, where students cannot leave the school for lunch anymore and not too many people can get into the school without going through the front office. Therefore, now they have teachers guarding the door where students cannot sneak out or cannot sneak anything in without teachers being around.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Patrick Avognon, who goes to school in Los Angeles, described what he sees as a useful tool.

PATRICK AVOGNON, Los Angeles, Calif.: We have random searches. And so what happens is an administrator will come in and she will ask for the attendance list. And they will do every third person or everyone who has a birthday in the month of February. And they will take them. They will search their locker. They will search their backpack. And it’s completely random.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The students had a lot to say about whether video games cause real gun violence.

Elitza Batchiyska from Los Angeles thinks the underlying causes are more complicated.

ELITZA BATCHIYSKA, Los Angeles, Calif.: I mean, I think that we have been witnessing violence for years, whether in reality through the media or through video games. And I don’t think that’s a first-hand effect. A lot of the shooters that we know of might not even be interested in that stuff. I go to school with a lot of kids, teenaged boys who are into that, but they would never even dream of owning a weapon.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jacqueline?

JACQUELINE MEARS: I feel like it’s a false placement of blame, because other countries have the exact same video games, they have the exact same movies, exact same cartoons that children and teenagers and adults are watching, and those other countries don’t have the same violence as we do.

And I feel like it’s basically just the fear ingrained in Americans’ minds that you need that gun to protect yourself, when, in reality, it’s kind of putting you out to be a victim of crime.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A separate group of students said families and parents have to counter the effects of a violent media culture which can desensitize people to the brutality around them.

Ben Hudson from Magnolia, Texas, believes media violence can be desensitizing.

BEN HUDSON, Magnolia, Texas: When they see in video games they’re killing people or they see it on a movie, it kind of makes the whole violence thing, even hearing it on the news, like it’s not real.

I don’t think it will affect someone enough to pick up a gun and kill someone just because they played a video game.

PATRICK AVOGNON: I disagree, because I think if you were raised on a game like “Grand Theft Auto,” like you played it when you were 6 years old and now you’re playing something like “Call of Duty’ now, you’re a lot more comfortable with the idea of a weapon or a gun, especially if you don’t have parents or you don’t have someone telling you that this is the wrong thing or this — you shouldn’t be — this is just a game.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Gerald, you had your hand up.

GERALD HARRIS, Nashville, Tenn.: Yes, I don’t think that we should legislate against a culture or cultures. And I’m not comfortable with restricting choice. I think if it’s the parents’ choice and if it’s the child’s choice to go and buy that video game …

ROGER MCLAUGHLIN, Richwood, W.Va.: I don’t always agree with, you know, a 6-year-old, for instance, my nephew, playing “Grand Theft Auto.” But I won’t say that video games themselves are the problem.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Madison, go ahead.

MADISON THOMAS, Missoula, Mont.: I agree with Ben about video games numbing us as people to when we hear about violent things. You don’t feel as much as you would before, like, playing the video game. But without having playing these video games, you probably feel more when you hear about tragedies like these.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thank you all for participating in this student Reporting Labs Google Hangout chat by the NewsHour. Thanks for joining us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch the full conversations with the students speaking candidly about guns on our Web site.

Also online, you can explore our entire week’s worth of coverage for the “After Newtown” series. That’s at NewsHour.PBS.org.