Accessibility links

Revisiting the Gun Debate in America


Hand guns turned in by their owners lie in a trash bin in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department held a buy-back to get guns off the street. The program to buy guns followed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 26, 2012.

Hand guns turned in by their owners lie in a trash bin in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department held a buy-back to get guns off the street. The program to buy guns followed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 26, 2012.

An average of one school shooting happens every week in America, says a recent report from Everytown for Gun Safety. The advocacy group seeks to reduce gun violence.

The report lists 150 school shootings that have happened since the end of 2012. That December, 20 young children and six staff members were murdered in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

It was the second-deadliest mass shooting in United States history.

The latest mass school shooting happened on October 1 in the state of Oregon. Nine people died and nine others were wounded at Umpqua Community College.

That marked the 45th school shooting in America in 2015.

Keeping schools safe

School officials across the country do all they can to protect students. But for one elementary school in northern Virginia, the opening of a nearby gun store has led to fear, protests and anger.

Franklin Sherman Elementary is in the small community of McLean, Virginia. The school keeps all doors locked during the day. It has security cameras at the front entrance. Teachers and students practice monthly lockdown drills to prepare for what to do if an active shooter enters the building.

In early October, NOVA Firearms opened in McLean, less than 20 meters from Franklin Sherman.

A Google Maps screenshot of NOVA Firearms, next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School

A Google Maps screenshot of NOVA Firearms, next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School

Jane Strauss is a longtime school board member at Fairfax County Public Schools, which oversees Franklin Sherman.

“The gun store itself sits…its property directly abuts Franklin Sherman Elementary School. And it isn’t as though there’s some big playing field or football field between the gun store and the school. The back property line is about 50 feet from the cafeteria and the classroom windows. You can see the elementary school clearly from the gun store.”

Hundreds of parents protested on the store’s opening day. They argued that it is too close to the school. Some said they did not feel safe enough to send their children to Franklin Sherman.

The manager of NOVA Firearms, Rachel Dresser, says her store has done nothing wrong. The state of Virginia permits firearms to be sold in any area that is commercially zoned.

“The community response, which was extremely unexpected. I did expect some people to maybe not be as excited. But I did not expect this level of resistance and animosity.”

A country divided

What happened in McLean represents one of the most divisive issues in America: gun rights.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution says: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Each state has its own gun laws. For example, some states offer licenses that permit a person to carry a gun, either openly or as a concealed weapon. Eight states and the District of Columbia require background checks before a person can buy a gun.

After the shooting at Sandy Hook, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans questioned feel that laws on gun sales should be stricter.

People hold signs memorializing Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 children and adults were killed in a mass shooting in December, as they participate in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall in Washington, January 26, 2013.

People hold signs memorializing Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 children and adults were killed in a mass shooting in December, as they participate in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall in Washington, January 26, 2013.

​In the most recent Gallup poll, taken after the shooting in Oregon, 55 percent of Americans felt the same way. And 43 percent said they own a gun.

The Gallup poll also found that 58 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the National Rifle Association, or NRA. The NRA is a nationwide organization that advocates for the rights to own guns.

‘Meaningful action’ hard to achieve

On the day of the Sandy Hook shootings, an emotional President Barack Obama addressed the nation. In his speech, Obama demanded “meaningful action.”

“As a country we have been through this too many times, whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago. These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods. And these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

A month after the shooting at Sandy Hook, Obama announced several new measures to help keep student safe. Among other policies, he urged Congress to restore a ban on military-style firearms.

But the NRA directed resources, including money, to fight the firearms ban, and won. The group regularly works to defeat politicians who speak out in favor of stricter gun laws.

Revisiting the debate

The issue of gun laws took center stage earlier this month in the first debate between Democratic presidential candidates.

Candidate Hillary Clinton criticized opponent Bernie Sanders for his position on gun control. In her words, he is “not at all” strict enough.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) debates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) debates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015.

“I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long and it's time the entire country stood up against the NRA. The majority of our country supports background checks, and even the majority of gun owners do,” Clinton said.

Shortly after the school shooting in Oregon, President Obama said he was considering an executive order on gun access. The president’s order would require dealers who sell a high number of guns to have a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It would also require dealers to perform background checks on their buyers.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called the president’s executive order a move to “take your guns away.”

More debate means more gun sales

Back in McLean, Virginia, Rachel Dresser of NOVA Firearms says business is better than ever. After the protests and media attention, she says more people know about the business.

“They wanted to be on the news and get their point across, but at the same rate, they put us on the news and got our name out there. It brought awareness to us on both sides.”

Dresser also says sales go up after school shootings and other gun tragedies, especially after politicians speak about the need for stronger gun laws.

“Mostly we see an increase in sales because of an increase in rhetoric regarding gun restrictions...And so people want to make sure they exercise their right to purchase while it’s still there.”

For Jane Strauss and parents of students at nearby Franklin Sherman Elementary, that does little to ease their fears.

Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 after a shooting at the school. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 after a shooting at the school. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

“You think of Sandy Hook, and then we just had this other loss of life in Oregon. How to we protect ourselves against people that randomly want to harm our children?"

I’m Ashley Thompson.

And I’m Jonathan Evans.

Ashley Thompson wrote this article for Learning English, with additional reporting from Caty Weaver. Hai Do was the editor.

Is gun ownership common where you live? What gun laws exist in your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section and on our Facebook page.

_______________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

mass - adj. involving, affecting, or designed for many people

abut – v. to touch along an edge

commercially adv. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services

divisive – adj. causing a lot of disagreement between people and causing them to separate into different groups

infringed – v. to wrongly limit or restrict (something, such as another person's rights)

concealed – adj. hidden from sight

executive order – n. an order that comes from the U.S. president or a government agency and must be obeyed like a law

rhetoric - n. language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG