Enough is Enough

Violence is never okay.

While the world is dealing with the crisis that is COVID-19, gun violence is an epidemic on its own.  May 31 marks the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, a tragedy that brought gun violence close to home and resulted in 12 deaths at the hands of city employee DeWayne Craddock.  Unfortunately, the mass shooting in our community was only one of 418 in the United States in 2019.  Just think: there were more mass shootings – incidents where four or more victims are shot and/or killed – in 2019 than there were days.  Overall, there were 39,454 deaths and 29,803 injuries caused by gun violence last year.  Approximately 61% of those deaths were a result of suicide while the others were caused by homicide, murder, accidents, or defensive use.  These statistics all come from the Gun Violence Archive, which collates data from 7,500 sources to provide credible information on a daily basis.  All of these numbers can be overwhelming, as they should.  There is simply no excuse to justify how so many people can die or be injured from the use of guns.  


The United States is plagued by a history of gun violence.  Besides the shooting in Virginia Beach last year, probably the most infamous incident in the state was the tragic Virginia Tech shooting that occurred on April 16, 2007.  A VT student, Seung-Hui Cho, used two semi-automatic pistols to shoot and kill 32 people and wound 17 others. Middle School History teacher Mr. Dashiell Quasebarth was a sophomore at VT when this horrific act was carried out and wanted to share some of his experiences and ideas regarding gun violence and gun safety.  Mr. Quasebarth thinks the primary source of gun violence stems from “ease of access to guns.  You know, there’s a lot of guns in our country and everybody can get them.  Some people should have them, some people should not have them.  But even people that should have them, it can be hard to determine the right time to use that.”  


Regarding gun control, Mr. Quasebarth said, “I think we need to tighten up a whole lot of things. I think we need to look at guns as multiple things. One, … if you’re looking at guns for safety purposes, then that seems to me like it’s a handgun”  – like those used at Virginia Tech – “or something that you would keep inside your house, which is still very dangerous…  


“And then if you are hunting, that’s a different thing. I grew up with a lot of friends who hunted so that’s one thing that I’m like, ‘Cool, keep your guns. Go wild. Have fun hunting.’ It’s a hobby, it’s fun. And then there’s this whole other realm, and I’m not a gun expert, but these assault-style weapons, which to me seems like where we need to just draw the line and say, ‘We don’t need those for anybody’ because they’re toys.  So if it’s just a toy for fun, why do we have toys that can also commit mass acts of violence that end up killing hundreds and hundreds of people?


Mr. Quasebarth poses a valid question worth exploring.  Of the 39,454 gun violence deaths last year, there were only 3,462 incidents of defensive use or unintentional shootings, indicating that approximately 90% of those deaths were purposeful.  The numbers don’t lie: this is just plain wrong.


In Virginia Beach, the shooter used two .45 caliber handguns he purchased legally that were equipped with legally obtained suppressors.  Question one: Why would anyone buy a suppressor for a gun unless they had the intent to use it in a way that would help conceal their actions?  Question two: Why and how is that legal?


The Virginia Tech and Virginia Beach shootings exemplify how a small pistol can take the lives of 44 innocent people and injure many others.  Last summer, more mass shootings occurred within 24 hours of each other in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas.  In the early morning of August 4, 2019, Connor Betts opened fire outside a bar in Dayton using a semi-automatic AM-15 (a pistol modeled after the AR-15 assault rifle) equipped with a 100-round drum magazine.  He was able to fire 41 rounds in 30 seconds before police shot him, but not in time to stop him from killing nine people and wounding 17 others.  The previous morning in El Paso, Patrick Wood Crusius entered a Walmart where many innocent families were shopping for school supplies.  He brought with him an AK-47 assault rifle, a semi-automatic weapon that can fire 40 rounds per minute, and killed 23 shoppers and injured 23 more.  These lethal weapons and the additional equipment were all bought legally.  That is unacceptable.


Other than last year’s shooting in Virginia Beach, perhaps the most relevant and impactful mass shooting to Cape Henry community members is the incident that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Like all of the other instances in this article, the weapon used by the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was obtained legally.  A former student of the school who was expelled for fighting, Cruz used an AR-15 style assault rifle and murdered 17 people on February 14, 2018.  This tragedy became the deadliest high school shooting in American history.  Another fact to consider is that March 2020 was the first March without a school shooting in the United States since March 2002.  That means for nearly all Upper School students, there has been at least one school shooting a year for as long as they have been alive.


While these are all examples of mass shootings, there are plenty more instances of gun violence on a more routine basis, whether that is through domestic abuse or rowdy armed protests.  A more recent instance is the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.  Arbery was on a run, exercising, when he was attacked by two white men and shot twice with a shotgun because he was an African-American.  Gun violence of any kind should not be tolerated and action needs to be taken to prevent it.


Whenever the idea of gun control comes up, the Constitution often comes into play, as well.  The Second Amendment states, “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.”  Though a constitutional debate is worth its own article, when the words are analyzed, there becomes room for many interpretations of how gun control affects the amendment.  A militia is defined as a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency; to infringe means to limit or undermine something (i.e. laws, agreements).  This implies that while there is the possible necessity and the allowance for the public to be armed, the United States is not in the middle of a domestic war that threatens “the security of a free State.”  


Of course, there is the argument that every gun owner should not be affected by one person’s actions.  Barrett Nickles (‘20) understands that “guns are tools that can be used to harm, so potentially anyone who has purchased a firearm could be a threat,” but posits that this is “an extremely generalized idea of people with firearms in the United States.”  However, whether someone is critical of their classmates like Seung Hui-Cho or furthering a right-wing extremist agenda like Patrick Crusius, there are plenty of criminals like Stephen Betts or DeWayne Craddock who were not suspected of becoming murderers.  Gun control has the potential to reduce unnecessary gun violence and increase public safety without millions of people owning extremely lethal weapons.


In 2020, Virginia has made large strides to curb gun violence.  The state government reported that “more than 1,000 Virginians die from gun-related incidents each year.”  Additionally, The Trace shared data that approximately 30-40% of Virginians own guns.  These stark statistics combined with the fallout of last year’s shooting were the motivation that the government needed to create new “commonsense” gun legislation.  These new laws include universal background checks when purchasing guns, an Extreme Risk Protective Order that “creates a legal mechanism for law enforcement to temporarily separate a person from their firearms when they represent a danger to themselves or others,” a one-handgun-a-month rule that will reduce stockpiling of weapons, and prohibiting people subject to protective orders from owning guns, among other new legislation.  Though the state legislature was unable to pass a ban on assault weapons, Governor Northam is hoping to address this issue again next year.  To find more information on these laws, visit The Trace, a news organization that aims to create more awareness and share information about gun-related violence.


Virginia’s new gun legislation seems poised to reduce instances of gun violence in the state and protect the safety of gun owners and others once the laws go into effect on July 1.  To discover what CHC students thought about gun control measures, an Instagram poll asked viewers which of three methods would be the most effective at reducing gun violence in a public place (i.e. malls, concert venues, schools).  Of the 25 total respondents, 14 said that metal detectors would be the best option, while 6 said that a policy stating no guns are allowed would be better and 5 said that a bag check by security would be the best method.  In more general terms regarding gun control, Phoebe More (‘21) said, “Making sure the people who have [guns] understand how to use them responsibly” is very important.  She also shared, “I think a lot of people are ignoring that there is a problem, especially with the attacks on schools.  I would like to see the problem addressed more.”


While there have been many recent efforts to prevent gun violence, there is still more that can be done.  Only time will tell whether the public will come to understand the full danger of guns and their capabilities and take action to do something about gun violence.


Please feel free to learn more about related topics by clicking on the various links throughout the article.  My full interview with Mr. Quasebarth is available at the link here.


Michael Russo (‘20) is a senior at Cape Henry Collegiate and enjoys reading, writing, and watching television in his free time. He plans on studying Media Arts and Design at James Madison University and pursuing a career as a journalist.