Sunday, July 20, 2014

On children and guns

By Lionel Brossi, Chile (SUSI scholar 2014)

The road to Chillicothe, Ohio, reminded me the surroundings of Valdivia, a small city in the South of Chile, where meandering rivers and native forest providing a kind of eternal mist, create an atmosphere similar to that of the tales of knight-errantry. 

We went to see the Tecumseh! drama, which takes place in an inmense amphitheatre sorrounded by nature, next to the Great Seal State Park. The play tells the story of  Shawnee, a native american leader from the XVI century, who fights to protect his homeland and his people from the American  settlers. Although some scenes could be quite violent for children (some of the assisting kids were  covering their eyes and ears at certain moments), the play was more than interesting and it worth the visit.

The theatre complex includes a prehistoric indian mini-museum, a terrace buffet, a snacks store and the “Mountain Gallerie Free Shop”, where enthusiastic parents were buying toy-weapons for their children. There were two kinds of weapons on sale: those used by the indians –bow and arrow- and those used by the settlers: rifles and shotguns.

Before the play had started, dozens of children were playing with their plastic shotguns pointing each-other, to their parents, to other people in the theatre and also to the yet empty stage. I guess that shotguns were much more popular than bows and arrows.  During the play, the intermetzzo and at the end of the drama, the kids were more excited about playing and some parents were proudly taking pictures of them while posing with their guns.

This whole scene brought to my mind the work of the photographer An-Sofie Kesteleyn, who traveled to the US to visit rifle ranges in Ohio and other southern states, where children learn the necessary skills to use a weapon and to shoot propperly. Part of her work and the story can be seen in this article from The Guardian’s journalist Sean O’Hagan. What strikes me most about these photographs is that the weapons used by children are not toys, but real guns in blue and pink.

Hard facts

According to The State of America Children’s last report 2014, 2,694 children, including teenagers, were killed by guns in 2010 and 15,576 children and teens were injured by guns, meaning that one child or teen was killed or injured every 30 minutes, 50 every day, and 351 every week. The report also shows the following stats,  depicting the astounding difference between US gun death in children and other high income countries.
The following video produced by the non profit news organization Mother Jones, shows in numbers and visualizations how many children were killed by guns in the US between the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and december 2013.

We mostly know about US children dying in massacres through mainstream media, which in general give a deep coverage of this kind of events, taking advantage of the profit generated by violent images and dramatic stories that attract bigger audiences. But the truth, is that there are so many cases that are left behind: those children who die alone in their own homes because of gun shoots,  either by accident or by murder.

It was a fake!

Last tuesday, in the peaceful city of Athens in Ohio, after participating in an inspiring session of the SUSI program at the Scripps School of Journalism, all the scholars were adviced that there was a possible shooting on campus, in a residence hall located on the East Green area.  These were the news on twitter:

Helicopters, police cars, ambulances and media were in minutes sorrounding the area.  Most of us went to our dorms and stayed there until receiving the good news: every place was inspected and nothing was found, not even a witness of the possible shooting.  

Compulsive Obsessive

In Spanish, we have the expression "deformación profesional", meaning some kind of "professional obsession or misconduct", referring mainly to when you keep working in the moments you shouldn't. While waiting for the news, I did some little research on school shootings in Ohio since 1864 until present and added the data into a map (feel free to click on the red pins to expand the information).

Finally, the case was a fake alarm, but I must say that it was quite an uncomfortable and a bit scary situation for all of us who were on campus.  Just in case, I also found these instructions on how to respond to an active shooter.

I think in all the above stories and numbers there is a common place: how much damage causes to a peaceful society the promotion and use of fire weapons and how worse it gets when parents grow their children in a gun friendly environment.
The promoted idea that “arming more adults will protect kids” falls into pieces when we see the story of school massacres and dead children by fireguns in the country. Just see the numbers, see all the stories behind them. 

I know. Life is a death to come. But why should we rush it?

Lionel Brossi. Instituto de la Comunicación e Imagen. Universidad de Chile.

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