On 17 April, seniors in Erin Dromgoole’s Current Events class led students from Classes VI through I, along with members of the faculty and staff, through an informed and thoughtful discussion on issues of gun violence and gun control in the United States. In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, information on gun violence (particularly related to schools) flooded the news. Yet even major and reputable media outlets, at times, got their facts wrong. The goal of this month’s student-led forum was to share both facts and informed opinions, in order to generate a productive discussion on a timely topic.
Seniors Quinn Ebben and Ben Bryant launched the forum, assigned to present two opposing sides of an argument on gun law reform. Quinn cited statistics highlighting the disproportionate number of mass shootings—school shootings, in particular—that take place in the United States, pointing to a distinctive “gun culture” that sets the United States apart from other developed nations. “Although we make up 5% of the world’s population, 31% of mass shooters worldwide are American,” said Quinn. “Per million people, the U.S. leads advanced countries with 29.7 gun murders; the next highest highest rate of gun murders occur in Switzerland, with 7.7 per million people.”
In Ben’s opening remarks, he began by affirming that “mass shootings of any kind are a problem for which our government must find a solution.” Ben maintained that the Second Amendment is a key tenet of the Constitution, and he acknowledged the many challenges associated with an outright ban of guns in the United States. “Today, there are 300 million guns in circulation in the United States,” he shared. “That’s approximately a gun for every man, woman, and child in the country. Even if legislation is passed with the sole focus on banning assault rifles, there are up to 15 million of them in circulation. Plenty of owners would be unwilling to sell back their weapons to the government, making it essentially impossible to eradicate the public supply of assault rifles. Additionally, assault rifles have an average price of $1,000, so even if a buy-back program was successfully instituted, it would cost the government about $15 billion.”
After Ben and Quinn offered opening remarks, seniors Chris Knight and Austin O’Brien summarized the details of two different school shootings—one being the recent Florida shooting, carried out with a legally obtained AR-15 rifle, and the second being one in Maryland, during which the shooter used a handgun. With those details in mind, the audience broke down into five discussion groups, led by students in the Current Events class.
In preparing for the forum, Ms. Dromgoole had her students research the Second Amendment of the Constitution; gun laws at the federal and state level; the differences between certain types of guns—automatic versus semi automatic; and school shootings in the United States and abroad.
This student-led forum was the third event of this format during the 2017-2018 school year. Headmaster Kerry Brennan has encouraged these types of formalized discussions as a way to extend the classroom and broach important topics relevant in the world today. In September, Mr. Brennan and a panel of seniors led a forum on the removal of historically significant and controversial statues and monuments; in November, RL seniors partnered with their counterparts at The Winsor School for a joint forum on immigration and DACA, at which the keynote speaker was immigration law attorney Rachel Casseus, Winsor Class of 2002.