By Libby Hobbs
Blinds closed, doors locked, and 30 ten-year-olds silenced. Instead of colorful backpacks hanging happily under nametags, the class of fifth graders replaced them, squishing into a line against the wall.
“Shhhh, we have to be quiet,” the teacher urges the kids who are now fidgety and anxious. Suddenly, the silence is cut as the locked door handle shakes aggressively with someone on the outside attempting to get in.
Hearts racing, one of the kids accidentally lets out a squeal and others have tears forming in their eyes. The footsteps retread and a walkie talkie echoes “clear.” Even though we knew this time, it was just pretend, it felt so real.
Many students alive after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, relate to this story. These “code red drills” and later “code red: active intruder drills” where teachers barricade the door with tables, filing cabinets, chairs, etc., prepare children for the one day when it isn’t pretend.
As these precautions become a normalized school experience, the next generation of students, like Avi Dhyani, have one thing to say:
“We feel helpless. We feel as though our current political system is failing us,” Dhyani said.
Over Zoom, five young high school and college students met to discuss gun violence and its impact on their classrooms, community, and mental health. Avi Dhyani, Vice Chair for Georgia High School Democrats and chair of the Young Democrats of Georgia (YDG) AAPI caucus, reacts to the 2022 Georgia legislation that enacted permitless carry.
“It just makes it easier for people who shouldn’t have a gun to get a gun,” Dhyani said.
According to GPB news, permitless carry in Georgia allows a concealed handgun to be held in public without first obtaining a license from the state. Joshua Anthony, Advocacy Director for YDG, explained that gun violence continued both inside and outside the home.
Inside the home gun violence often results from a lack of secure storage. Everytown for Gun Safety says nearly 350 children under the age of 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else.
“Not only is it happening in schools and churches in supermarkets, but it's also happening in homes,” Anthony said. “I do support the second amendment, but we have to have common sense when we’re doing this stuff. There is no amount of metal, plastic, or lead that is more important than a child, mother, or father.”
Gun violence is commonly traced back to mental health issues too. Carter Fay, Chair of Georgia High School Democrats, said that mental health affects a students’ energy level, concentration, dependability, and also suggests that depression is associated with lower grade point averages.
Furthermore, Everytown for Gun Safety says having access to a firearm triples the risk of death by suicide. Fay sees where stress is piling on students as they feel the pressure to succeed. He thinks these levels need to be reduced by creating spaces for students to seek advice from teachers and counselors.
However, dealing with mental health issues does not look the same for each community. In the AAPI community, there is a stigma on seeking help because it shows signs of weakness or brings family shame.
Often, AAPI students who are struggling with their mental health feel they must continue to be quiet in class, work hard, and get the grades they need to be successful. They suffer in silence.
Tyler Lee, on the other hand, is a Korean-American sophomore at Peachtree Ridge High School who calls himself “disruptive.” He recognizes the pressure to be the “good Asian kid” but ultimately decides to be an advocate and speak out against the issues he sees.
Lee thinks Asian Americans, especially the young people, are resilient. He says they are educated on the topic of gun violence and asking what to do next. As someone recognized by the state House of Representatives in GA House Resolution 617, Lee tells the young AAPI people who are nervous to break the stigma and start speaking out, this:
“[I] tell every kid that does not have a parent supporting what they do or having parents that are telling them to keep the status quo, to keep it cool, is that that's not how change gets made. And that's not how people break into newspapers [and] break into interviews.”
Ultimately, gun violence manifests in many areas of one individual's life. In the classroom at school, at grandma’s house in Chinatown, in your bedroom at home, or most recently, at Highland Park for a 4th of July parade, gun violence can attack.
These five young students brainstorm solutions to making real change. Following the bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed in the U.S. Congress and the New York gun law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, they want to see more.
Tiffany Pham, an incoming freshman at Yale University, has worked with various campaigns, including Bee Nguyen’s for Secretary of State. She thinks other young people should join campaigns, make calls, and register their peers to vote. She wants to see language access representative of the demographics for available use.
“I think that it's all about ensuring that we create a democracy where our candidates are representing our values, they look like us, and we're just not settling for who we think might work out,” Pham said.
To the young people who are also asking themselves: “How can I take action? I’m just one person, right? How can I do anything about this?” Pham has a new perspective.
“If you're not involved, someone else is going to be doing this work on your behalf. Someone that does not represent your interests, your values, [and] what you think is best for your community.”