According to U.S. News, A teenager is more likely to die of a gunshot wound than of all other diseases combined, with youth accounting for 65 percent of weapons arrests in the U.S. A Huffington Post article in 2015 listed Alaska as number one for gun violence in the nation, followed by Louisiana and Mississippi. From 2002 to 2011, 1,227 people were killed with guns in Alaska. Anchorage headlines during the past two years were often dominated by shootings — notably the shooting of Caia Delavergne and Conor Lally in Bootlegger’s Cove, the death of Breanna Moore, as well as the recent Williwaw and South Anchorage shootings this month. These acts of violence came close to home for many community members.
“I have had friends pass away because of suicide, drunk driving incidents, and now, gun violence,” said Helen Goodyear, a senior at South Anchorage High School who knew Chloe Duke, one of the victims of a domestic violence shooting incident in Southside last week. “Chloe Duke was one of the sweetest and most kind people I have ever met. I had a few classes with her, and I remember that she never ever had a frown on her face; she was always smiling and laughing.”
Goodyear believes that one of the causes of this violence is the accessibility of weapons to youth.
“I feel the main cause of youth gun violence is the fact that firearms are too readily available… You can walk into a Walmart and easily walk out with a gun and a box full of ammunition.”
According to the same Huffington Post article, Alaska and other states with the most gun violence do not require permits to purchase or possess rifles, shotguns, or handguns – gun owners also don’t have to to register their weapons. Gun retailers can request an ID to verify age, but this does not solve the secondary problem of youth acquiring weapons from family members or friends. Out of the 10 percent of high-schoolers in the U.S. who have reported carrying guns, 80 percent of them report getting the weapons from home, a relative or friend.
Paul Honeman, a University Police Department patrol officer with over 20 years of experience with Anchorage Police Department, commented on the cause of the spike of youth gun violence instances.
“If you look at per capita crimes regarding firearms, we’ve seen in 2015 a spike in weapons violations, which includes gun violence,” said Honeman. He believes millennials are desensitized to violence while the general population trends towards collecting guns out of fear. “It seems like more and more people are moving away from using firearms for competition and sport, and instead people are arming themselves for a coming apocalypse or terrorism. Every time there’s an incident involving domestic or international terrorism, there’s an increase in the purchase of semi-automatic weapons.”
Amidst talk about federal plans for changes in gun laws, the time for Anchorage to start having meaningful conversations about local solutions is now. Miriam Aarons, a member of the community action group We Are Anchorage, emphasized the importance of community dialogue to find solutions.
“We are all about finding community-driven solutions to the challenges our city faces through civic engagement and dialogue,” said Aarons. “Civic engagement, safe gun ownership, speaking to young people about effective and healthy conflict resolution, as well as voting and remembering what it means to be a responsible human is important as the dialogue on gun violence continues to evolve.”
Offficer Honeman echoed Aarons’s urges to be use firearms safely.
“The bottom line is responsible gun ownership means being learned in possession and use,” said Honeman.
Honeman recommended attending a “Carry and Conceal Weapon” training to learn about the law and about safe gun handling. “If you want to be a responsible owner, safeguarding and safekeeping your article is the smartest thing to do. I’d definitely recommend not keeping it in a vehicle. The biggest thing is, when you’re in your own home, watch out for the young kids… We’ve been on too many calls when a young person is shot and killed, and when we ask them [the youth who discharged the weapon] where they got their gun from, they knew exactly where it was in the house and how to get it, but not how to use it safely.”
Along with Honeman, Goodyear believes that spreading awareness and education can help minimize gun violence, as well as establishing training requirements for gun owners.
“As a community, I feel like we need to respond to issues with youth gun violence by using education…Gun safety classes should be a requirement if you own a gun. This may help curb incidents, as then guns are being handled safely.”
The position of the community is anti-violence and prioritizes safety, which will most likely be the focus of any discussions about gun violence in the future.