Need for gun control never nearer

While threats weren't credible, the need for meaningful legislative reform was never clearer

Editorial Board

A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, a manhunt ensued for the 18 year old McCallum student, who allegedly made terroristic threats to harm McCallum students and faculty. He was arrested by the Austin Police Department before school started that same morning, and many students went about their day completely unaware of what had transpired until news spread and an official email was sent out to parents parents that afternoon.

Most of the drama seemed resolved, almost like it never really started, as the majority of the student body was only aware of the threat until after his arrest. Resolved, however, only until chaos spread Wednesday evening, while everyone was safe at home. Rumors regarding more threats spread through the means of shared screenshots, texts, and misinformation.

The social media posts spread the story that one of the arrested student’s friends was going to shoot up the school that Thursday, on the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, and urged other kids not to go to school tomorrow. Many did just that, saying that they preferred not to take any chances, and Thursday’s attendance dropped sharply compared to the day before. In fact, many of us on the Shield staff chose not to come to school, to be safe, and not risk it.

This particular incident was resolved, thankfully, without any actual violence, but the fear felt by the McCallum community has prompted a new empathy for the issue of gun control, as everyone has asked themselves, how would my life changed if something did actually happen?

Our government has not made any significant, major restrictions or even adaptations to gun access laws. We have not seen widespread change. Though it is worth noting that many stricter gun laws have been passed at state level, there have still been no major advances. Nothing since Sandy Hook, since Las Vegas, since Parkland, or Santa Fe. And these shootings keep happening. Last week it seemed like it might happen again , and this time at McCallum. Our government needs to make it harder for citizens to obtain assault rifles, such as the AR-15 Wicks allegedly possessed.

McCallum’s main hall was much emptier than normal on Feb. 14 after rumors were spread that a friend of the arrested student was going to shoot up the school. Photo by David Winter.

There is only so much we as students can do to encourage the major changes we want to see, regardless of what those changes might be. We want stricter gun control laws. We’ve gone to protests, started conversations with the other side, checked to make sure our parents are voting. But we can’t say, for certain, that the changes we hope for will ever happen. That doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting or that we should lose hope. But it does mean that we might start to have to make adjustments to our reality as it currently is. Mass shootings have happened and continue to happen. Students don’t feel safe at school.

Last week, most of us realized that we don’t know how to act when faced with a threat like that. It is awfully difficult to determine what threats are credible and what is not, especially on your own. We think many students would have felt more comfortable going to school if the McCallum administration had had more open communication and was honest with what we were facing the next day instead of a brief email that left readers with more questions than we began with. We recognize that the administration probably had their hands tied and were unable to disclose much of what was known, but having more specific information available to the public could have prevented much of the confusion and exaggerated messages that many saw on their social media.

We also believe that community members should brush up on their news literacy; as we have seen, rumors can affect student’s mindset to the point where they will gladly take an unexcused absence over coming to school. If we become more comfortable with identifying credible, trustworthy information, it will be more difficult for opportunists to take advantage of a precarious situation.

It would be impossible to fault everyone–or really, anyone– for the frenzy that filled many MAC families’ evenings that Wednesday. Would it have been better if social media had not gone wild with rumors and fears? The next day, maybe, but likely, at some point, we would have been faced with a similar situation, and these same questions and panic would have risen then. As a school, we should move forward and use what occurred to teach and motivate us to see how we can improve plans, emergency-preparedness and administration-to-family communication.