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Arm Teachers or Ban Video Games? Students Debate in Google Hangout

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has made many schools rethink their safety procedures. It has also sparked emotional debates about the roots of violence.

To find out how the tragedy has affected young people, we brought together high school students from around the country into a Google Hangout to talk about new rules since the Dec. 17 massacre, their opinion about proposals to let teachers carry guns and ideas about how to stop the next mass shooting. The students are participants in the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs, which provides video journalism curricula and mentoring to classrooms and after-school programs.

Attitudes toward guns differed dramatically from major cities where illegal weapons kill hundreds every year, to rural towns, where many residents hunt and own guns.

In the first Hangout (you can watch it above), Ellie Batchiyska, who attends Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Los Angeles said that she’s hearing a lot of debate about whether guns kill people or people with guns kill people. She disagreed with recent proposals to encourage teachers to carry guns, arguing that they are supposed to teach students how to avoid violence. “I know it’s a difficult definitely in L.A. because it’s such a huge city and our police department — it’s hard for them just to be able to monitor every school and the officers can’t stay with us all day so that’s complicated… It’s just dangerous.”

But Spencer Baldwin from Shenandoah, Iowa, said that many of his teachers are gun owners with concealed carry permits. “They’ve 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.”

“Shenandoah is a pretty rural community, you know. We have a lot of farmers and a lot hunters and it’s just a small town atmosphere … and a lot of people have guns and a lot of people are afraid for their rights.”

In another Google Hangout (below), students admitted that video games and a violent media culture can numb kids to the brutality around them, but argued that the real problem has much more to do with home environments, mental health and bullying.

“We’ve had violent video games forever,” argues Ben Hudson from Magnolia High School in Magnolia, Texas. “When they see in video games they are killing people or if they see on a movie it kind of makes the whole violence thing — even hearing it on the news — like it’s not real, it doesn’t hit home as much… but I don’t think it would affect someone enough to pick up a gun and kill someone just because they played a video game of it.”

But Patrick Avognon of Los Angeles disagreed. “If you were raised on a game like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ — like you played it when you were six years old and now you are playing something like ‘Call of Duty’ now — you are 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.”

Avognon and the other students said it’s up to parents to help students understand how to separate fantasy from reality. “Growing up my mom didn’t let me even use water guns because the neighborhood I grew up in … there was a lot of gang activity and she didn’t want me to fall into anything like that so I was never comfortable with the idea of violence or weapons at all because of that reason. Now I play games like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ because I know that it’s just a game and it’s not OK to do but a lot of kids don’t have that.”

“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,” argued Jacqueline Mears of Magnolia, Texas. “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.”

Students participated from Richwood High School in W.V., Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, Daniel Pearl Magnet School in Los Angeles, Sentinel High School in Missoula, Mont., Magnolia High School in Texas, and Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville, Tenn.

PBS NewsHour has been following the discussion about gun violence and gun control policy as it unfolds across the nation and in Washington. Follow all of the stories on our special reports page, The Gun Debate.

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