It’s a sensitive topic—one that brings the NRA down on any legislator’s head who dares to link guns to any undesirable effect. But the facts scream at us, and we ignore them at our own peril: Giving young people guns and encouraging them to go out and kill living beings is resulting in dead kids. Our own government is helping to make this happen, as I’ll explain.
Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooter Jaylen Fryberg was just a few years older than my own son, but unlike my son, who has never touched a gun, Fryberg was a hunter. He often bragged about hunting and posted gruesome photos of the animals he’d killed on his social media accounts, with captions such as “oooo kill ’em.”
How did this happen? Fryberg’s parents gave him a gun for his 14th birthday. Only three months later, the freshman walked into the school cafeteria and shot five students at close range, killing four of them, before reportedly turning the gun on himself.
It’s not the first time that a young hunter has gunned down fellow humans.
In June, 15-year-old Jared Padgett opened fire at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., killing another student and injuring a teacher before killing himself. A friend told the media that Padgett liked to hunt rabbits. In 2009, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy shot his father’s pregnant girlfriend with a gun that he had received as a Christmas gift from his father, who was reportedly teaching the boy to hunt. In 2005, Pennsylvania teenager David Ludwig—whose social media page was filled with gory hunting photos—shot and killed his girlfriend’s parents.
Nearly all the students involved in mass school shootings in recent years first “practiced” on animals, including Kip Kinkel, Luke Woodham and Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Jonesboro, Ark., shooters Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden used the hunting guns belonging to Golden’s grandfather—who had taught the boy to hunt—to ambush their fellow students, killing five people in 1998.
As a mother, I would never hand my son a gun and instruct him to kill living beings for “fun.” Yet government agencies encourage and promote youth hunting programs that turn children into killers, despite the fact that most kids have no interest in hunting. According to one hunting survey, the majority of kids who responded said that they didn’t hunt because they “love animals” or “don’t like killing animals.”
Many states allow children of any age to hunt as long as they are accompanied by an adult. One of those states is Nebraska, where a fatal school shooting took place in 2011. Undeterred, a rural Nebraska school district recently voted to allow students to pose with guns and the animals they had shot for their senior yearbook photos. PETA has asked for a copy of that yearbook to put in a time capsule, as surely we will not be this foolhardy a few decades from now.
Virginia—which has the dubious distinction of being home to the nation’s deadliest school shooting, at Virginia Tech—also apparently has few qualms about encouraging children to take up arms. A student at a high school located just a couple hours’ drive from Virginia Tech contacted PETA after his school started allowing students to pose with dead animals in yearbook photos and was even broadcasting schoolwide announcements promoting hunting. After the student approached the principal, the school agreed to end the announcements, but hunting photos are still allowed in the yearbook.
People who pick up guns, aim them at another living being and fire must deaden a piece of their hearts—or, worse, feel a rush of power that they wish to feel again and again. Can we be surprised then when troubled children pick up hunting weapons and attack their classmates?
Schools are now putting up fences and hiring security guards to protect children from their classmates, but there’s a simpler and less expensive solution to this problem: Stop allowing kids to hunt.