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Buffalo students speak out against school gun violence

Nick Lippa

What are the consequences of a school shooting? How should we react to an active shooter? Is there a way to spot a shooter before it happens? These are some of the questions students of the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School asked local leaders Tuesday at the “Stop The Killing” school gun violence forum.

The discussion followed last week’s Santa Fe, Texas school shooting where a student gunman killed ten people. Ninth grader Benjamin Ullo said this isn’t something he should have to worry about.

“Most of the time I do feel safe. I do trust the people in my building,” said Ullo. “But every once in a while, I see someone who doesn’t like the school. Who gets in to an argument. And I wonder maybe, could that lead to something bigger. Could that be a tipping point? Could our school be next?”

Some of the suggestions students were given yesterday include watching videos online of how to react to an active shooter, getting involved in local politics to help enact policy changes, speaking out against bullying, and not letting someone sit alone at lunch.

City of Buffalo Youth and Recreation Director Pastor Kenny Simmons said it’s important to not view every loner or troubled youth as a potential future school gunman.

“Sometimes a kid is just thinking about-- I’m cool right now that I’m at school. But what’s gonna happen when I go home at three o’clock?” said Simmons. “My lights are off. The gas is off. Mom’s not going to be there. There’s not any food… So everybody that’s quiet, everybody that’s somber, everybody that’s (sitting) in the background isn’t a potential threat to come and do something to a school.”

Both community leaders and students agreed that preventing school gun violence starts with healthier communication—both inside and out of the classroom.

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” said Simmons. “I’m totally against doing away with our rights to bear arms, but it’s the way to bear arms. People shouldn’t be allowed to carry concealed weapons. We know certain stores and we know certain people and we know where the guns are.”

High Schooler Jamerya Kelly asked why all the emphasis of gun violence has been placed on school shootings when most of the problems she sees occur closer to home.

“I live across the street from a park. Kids get shot in the park numerous times in the day(time) or even fight in the park,” said Kelly. “There’s just constantly things going on at the park, but nobody cares. But when we come to school, it’s like oh—you got to prevent school shootings. We do lock down drills, but nobody ever reaches out to communicate and say what we need to do when someone is shooting outside from us.”

Kelly was one of several students who hope the conversation on guns doesn’t die down.

“I want to see people getting more involved and preventing shootings from happening instead of letting them happen and after a month it dies down and nobody cares anymore,” she said.

A Washington Post article recently cited 2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than service members so far.

“I should be able to walk home (safely),” said Ullo. “I worry, especially as a trans person, that just being out and being myself and using the name… I could be another person that we don’t talk about. That my death could not be talked about.”

For students like tenth grader Nasir Houston, a potential school shooting isn’t something that worries him.

“There hasn’t really been any school shootings up here. It could (happen), but I’m not too worried about. I don’t know if I should be, but I’m not,” said Houston.

Ullo thinks about it a little more often. He worries about just being another statistic.

“I wasn’t originally going to move to Buffalo,” said Ullo. “One of the high schools that I would have attended was actually a victim to a shooting. Every day I kind of wonder what would have happened if we didn’t choose to move? What would have happened if I would have been in those classrooms? Would I be here today?”

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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