The Traumatizing Effect Gun Violence Has On Children

While Republican lawmakers fail to recognize the trauma inflicted on children, Generation Z has been using their political voice to bring about change.
High school students from Montgomery County in suburban Washington march in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

High school students from Montgomery County in suburban Washington march in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

New Year’s Day began with shootings that claimed 177 lives as if to get a head start on surpassing 2019’s record of the most mass shootings in a single year.

One of the biggest stories toward 2019’s end was the Jersey City, New Jersey shootings. The day after President Donald Trump tweeted “thoughts and prayers” about Jersey City’s “horrific shootout,” media attention turned to the alleged perpetrators David Anderson and Francine Graham and Anderson’s past ties to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. Anderson and Graham are suspected of murdering a Jersey City police officer and three people inside a kosher grocery market.

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Soon, Black Hebrew Israelite was trending on Twitter. In several of the tweets, the writers remarked the Black Hebrew Israelites were the same group that harassed the Covington Catholic High School students back in January.

After attacking the “liberal” media in its coverage of America’s latest shooting, conservative opinion writer Becket Adams in his Washington Times column “Jersey City Gunman Was a Black Hebrew Israelite, So Don’t Expect to Hear Much More about the Shooting” defended the Covington Catholic students, one of whom is currently suing the Washington Post for libel.

While focusing on these children, Becket and Twitter overall had failed to focus on not only the pandemic of American gun violence itself but the actual children affected by Thursday’s shooting. However, Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts tweeted while the shootings occurred:

Last month marked seven years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Yet the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six faculty failed to elicit an actionable federal response to mass shootings and gun violence. Because of this, we should not be surprised the adults “in charge” would not work together on a bipartisan basis to end this uniquely American problem.

America has become numb and remains ignorant of the trauma repeatedly inflicted on one of its most vulnerable people — children. Shootings and lockdown drills have now become their reality.

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The Reality of Children and the Trauma of Gun Violence

I have been blessed to not have been shot or lost a family member or friend to gun violence, but gun violence is part of my daily reality. I teach at two Chicago institutions of higher education (only one of which utilizes lockdown drills), and my nine-year-old daughter is an elementary school student who participates in lockdown drills along with fire and tornado drills. Every day I wake up hyperaware that either she or myself could become a victim of gun violence. Now after experiencing five years of lockdown drills at her school along with being aware of news events, so does she. Currently, she fears sleeping alone and that she, my husband, or myself could be killed by a random shooter.

Plus my family and I already experience gun violence exposure where we live. In my Northwest Side Chicago neighborhood, my family and I have been surrounded by gun violence despite an overall feeling of safety in diverse Albany Park. Starting when we moved to our condo in 2008, there have been shootings in front of and beside our condominium. My husband and I have seen Chicago Police with military-grade weapons in front of our building as well when they have gone after a suspect.

In the evening a year and a half ago outside our sunroom’s window, 19-year old Carlos Pagan was killed in what Chicago authorities believed to have been a case of mistaken identity. Pagan had no gang ties. A memorial to him where he was murdered still remains.

My husband heard eight gunshots and saw Pagan, who was walking his dog, on the ground surrounded by two of his friends. A neighbor ran out of her house and performed CPR on Pagan while his friends along with my husband and our other neighbors called 911.

The next day as I walked my eight-year-old daughter to her summer camp down the street, local news was out gathering interviews. A reporter stopped me to talk, and my first thought was my daughter who was asking why the reporter wanted to talk to me. Dried blood could still be seen on the sidewalk across from us. As the days passed, my daughter learned what happened not only from my husband, me, and the local news but also her campmates.

My daughter is not alone, and in her experience with gun violence, she has gotten off easy so far. This past Halloween in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, a seven-year-old girl was caught in gang crossfire while she went trick or treating. In 2013 Hadiya Pendleton, an honor student at King College Prep High School, was killed by Michaeil Ward. Pendleton lived in, attended high school in, and was killed in former President Barack Obama’s neighborhood. A park was later renamed in her honor.

According to the Erikson Institute, “60% of Chicago’s youngest children lived in community areas where 91% of homicides took place, according to the analysis” with most of the gun violence occurring on the West and South Sides of the city. The National Council of Family Relations quoted a 2017 study by the Center for Disease Control that stated, “The homicide rate for Black Americans in all 50 states is, on average, eight times higher than that of Whites.”

Though Congress did pass legislation to fund research of gun violence, it still has to pass the Senate and then be signed by President Trump into law. By how Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sat on bills passed by the Democrat-Led Congress, hope remains dim.

Because of federal, state, and local governments’ impotence, fixing the problem has unfairly fallen onto children, adolescents, and teenagers who are forced to grow up fast under the specter of gun violence on top of the specter of climate change. The most public face of growing up fast is the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. They took matters into their own hands and became activists after a shooter killed 17 people and injured 17 others at their high school.

As much as pro-life politicians champion the importance of life, that advocacy does not translate into what has become a new normal for all children under the age of 18 who no longer reside in a mother’s womb.

The Chicago Tribune noted the Erikson Institute pointed out, “Children exposed to chronic violence can become fearful, demonstrate aggression, anxiety, depression, sadness and have difficulty feeling secure.”

Lockdown drills themselves create trauma as well. Former president of the National Association of School Psychologists and current Winthrop University professor Melissa Reeves told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro lockdown drills can “potentially trigger either past trauma or trigger such a significant physiological reaction that it actually ends up scaring the individuals instead of better preparing them to respond in these kinds of situations. And there’s actually examples of where these drills have been done very irresponsibly and they have traumatized individuals or have actually led to bodily harm.”

At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the National Education Association published an online article about how educators can help their students manage the psychological impact of active-shooter drills.

As demonstrated by the activists who arose from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, Generation Z has gotten sick of this. Soon Generation Alpha — my daughter’s generation — will too.

This quarter in both of my first-year college composition classes, the bulk of essays written focused on the subject of school shootings. And students are beyond angry — even students who responsibly and legally own firearms that are not AR-15s. They want something done, and more than one has said if government officials will not do it they will.

The voting electorate has changed, and they will put their new legal right into play at the ballot box in November 2020 and beyond. Politicians need to be aware of this and listen to this new electorate, especially those under the age of 18. The Democratic wave in 2018 along with Watts’s Moms Demand Action accomplishments on the local, state, and national level, including the Congressional election of Lucy McBath, who became a gun control activist after the 2012 murder of her son Jordan Davis, have foreshadowed this.

Thoughts and prayers.

Opinion // Gun Violence