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Englewood High School students react to gun violence

After Florida attack and local firearms scares, teens continue conversation

Posted

Americans need to get over the Second Amendment and consider people's lives — that was one opinion in a recent discussion among Englewood High School students.

Another took a different stance: “Assault rifle” is a misleading term because “assault” is an action — not a kind of gun.

Such were the diverse opinions lobbed across the tables in a high-school journalism classroom in Englewood, two weeks after a school shooting in Florida killed 17 and one week after unverified rumors of a person threatening to bring a gun to school in Englewood caused heightened security in the school district. Reports of threats rang out related to schools across the Denver metro area and other parts of Colorado in the weeks since the shooting.

The student newspaper class at Englewood High School, amid the chaos, published an in-depth interview with the EHS school-resource officer in The Pirateer Feb. 23. The SRO gave pointed criticism about the school officer accused of improperly remaining outside the Parkland, Florida, school during the Feb. 14 shooting.

Amid local and national calls to allow teachers to be armed in schools, students engaged in discussion with the Englewood Herald during class March 1 on that proposal, mental health's role in gun violence and how to address mass shootings.

Student Cody Baldridge was open to the idea of teachers having freedom to concealed carry guns in schools.

“A campus officer is all well and good,” he noted, but can you trust them? Baldridge referenced the school officer in Florida, whose actions during the shooting there are contested — the officer has contended he followed correct protocol because he believed gunshots were happening outside based on what he heard on his police radio, national news outlets reported.

Thomas O'Connor retorted, “If you can't trust him, how can you trust teachers?” Vivian Cedillo agreed.

Another student said police arriving on scene during a shooting might get confused about whom the shooter is if teachers are also holding guns.

Karla Shotts, the teacher who oversees the newspaper, offered students a hypothetical: If she were breaking up a fight between two girls at school, and one knew Shotts was carrying a gun, what if one of them grabs it?

Another student feared teachers pulling out guns on students if a student angered them enough.

Overall, two out of the 16 students present in the discussion supported allowing teachers to be armed.

Shotts brought up Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods, which both announced Feb. 28 that they would not sell guns to anyone under 21 years old, national outlets reported. Dick's Sporting Goods also announced it would no longer sell assault-style rifles in its stores.

The term is disingenuous, Baldridge argued, because an assault rifle isn't a defined type of gun and “assault” implies an action rather than a category. The term “assault weapon” is contentious, and a 1994 law known as the federal assault-weapons ban — which was in effect for 10 years — outlawed some types of semi-automatic rifles, but not all.

“At 18, we can enlist in the Army,” Baldridge said, adding that if the age for buying guns is raised, the country should up the age for military eligibility, too.

The enlistment age should be raised anyway, said Allie Hunt, asking why a person can't drink a beer at that age but is allowed into military service. Hunt said there would be less damage in a potential shooting if people had pistols, for example, rather than assault rifles. Eight of the 16 students supported banning assault-style weapons.

Students raised the topic of mental health's role in shootings, and Shotts said it could be expensive and complex to tie background checks for gun buyers to a kind of database of people's mental-health history. It would be worth the money, Baldridge said.

“Don't just take away a tool, take away the (mental problems) of those who use it,” he said.

O'Connor said people should look past the Second Amendment put more emphasis on people's lives in discussions over stricter gun control.

“We have freedom,” O'Connor said, “yet we can't take another step to keep people safe.” He brought up speed limits as a comparison, saying it's similarly a policy to make people safer.

In the days after the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, multiple reports connected to a rumor of a person threatening to bring a gun to school arose at Englewood Middle School and EHS. The reports stemmed from one noncredible rumor, school-district officials said.

All Englewood schools had extra security on Feb. 22, according to the district. Parent April Chavez said she kept her 14-year-old son home from EMS that day. She felt “better safe than sorry,” she said, and she has talked to him about school threats.

“I basically told him to report anything that would be a threat of violence, or credible threats made,” Chavez said. “I also told him to keep his cell phone on but the ringer off, in case he has to call 911 or myself.”

Englewood police recovered a gun from Colorado's Finest School of Choice and took a student into custody Feb. 7, a day that saw the school go into lockdown. A threat of violence was also reported at EHS that day, but police determined there was no threat.

An EHS student also turned himself in to police Jan. 3 on suspicion of making “significant threats” toward the school, police said.

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