Gun violence is a pervasive issue in the United States that has garnered widespread attention and sparked passionate debates. The complexity of this problem stems from a combination of cultural, social, economic, and political factors.
It is, however, trending in an alarming direction.
In 2023, 32,913 people have been killed by a gun, including 18,348 suicides. An additional 28,676 people have been injured in gun violence this year. And it's not just adults and teenagers. Childen ages 11 and under have been shot 522 times, including 232 deaths.
It seems unthinkable that a child under 12-years-old could be involved in a shooting, but Apopka experienced that very incident last Monday.
Officers from the Apopka Police Department arrested an 11-year-old, who allegedly went to a vehicle and within seconds of entry took out a gun and shot two 13-year-olds at the Northwest Recreational Facility following football practice.
At a press conference the next day, Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley expressed his dismay over the shooting.
“It is a very sad day for our community and society when an eleven year old child chooses to use a firearm to resolve a dispute," he said. "There were numerous adults and coaches in the immediate area where the first altercation took place and instead of feeling comfortable reaching out to one of them to help him resolve the matter, he chose a firearm. We have to wonder where he learned this behavior from?"
McKinley also said that allowing minors the ability to get guns with very little effort played a role in this incident.
"Easy access to a firearm definitely contributed to this youth's decision to use it instead of think of an alternative option," he said. "Our youth are exposed to violence all the time. Whether it’s on television, in video games or on social media, it surrounds them in everything they do and again we wonder where they learned it from. Violence among our youth is becoming far too frequent and the root cause of why they feel the need to use a firearm to resolve a dispute needs to be addressed because we are losing far too many young people due to this senseless violence. “
Melissa Byrd, the District 7 Orange County School Board Member (which includes Apopka), was also jarred by the incident. She posted an impassioned statement on her Facebook Page:
"Once again, our community has been shaken with gun violence. This time by an 11-year-old child who appears to have had easy access to the firearm. This hurts me to my soul. How can our babies, our children, think this is the way to solve their problems?
I am fed up with seeing children’s lives being put in danger and our youngest community members having to be exposed to these events."
The ease of access to firearms is a significant contributor to gun violence. Loose regulations and loopholes in the background check system make it relatively simple for individuals, including those with malicious intent, to acquire guns... and in the case of the Apopka shooting, easy access for an 11-year-old.
Like McKinley, Byrd believes minors with availability to firearms is a core issue related to gun violence.
"This problem will not get better without addressing two issues: keeping guns out of the hands of our children and teaching kids how to resolve conflicts in a way that doesn’t destroy lives. It’s not an easy or quick process. Last year, I started an anti-violence initiative after more children thought guns were a solution to their problems. Thankfully, our community is working together to provide resources for our children, after school activities, conflict resolution training and mentoring.":
Byrd reached out to parents to take the lead.
"We are trying, but we have to do better. We need everyone’s help to keep our kids safe.
Parents, talk to your kids about what to do when they get angry or when someone is bothering them, how to stop a fight from progressing, what adults they can turn to for help and how making one snap decision can ruin their life."
She also called on gun owners to take necessary precautions with their firearms.
"But most of all, if you are a gun owner - be a responsible gun owner and keep your guns locked up as they are required by law to be. We can’t do it alone. We all have to work together to stop the violence. Under §790.174, Fla. Stat., loaded firearms in a home must be stored in a locked box or container or secured with a trigger lock if the owner reasonably knows that a child under the age of 16 can access the firearm."
Gun violence in the United States is a multifaceted issue that requires a nuanced and comprehensive approach. It cannot continue to be the political hot-button it has become without progress being made. Balancing the right to bear arms with the need for public safety requires collaboration across political, social, and cultural lines. By addressing the root causes, strengthening regulations, and fostering a culture of responsibility, the nation can work towards a future where incidents of gun violence are significantly reduced.
Because what happened in Apopka Monday night must never happen again.