OPINION: Protect kids from childhood’s greatest danger

The desk of Deshon DuBose was covered with notes by fellow students. / Courtesy of Laurin McClung

Credit: Courtesy of Laurin McClung

Credit: Courtesy of Laurin McClung

The desk of Deshon DuBose was covered with notes by fellow students. / Courtesy of Laurin McClung

On the morning of Jan. 22, I received a text from a friend:

“I have sad news,” she said.

“Oh no, what?” I replied.

A seventh grade student from the school my daughter once attended had died, she wrote.

Deshon DuBose, 13, was shot and killed after leaving Cascade Family Skating on Jan. 21, according to police.

I hadn’t seen Deshon in almost a year, but he was the kind of kid that always smiled, waved and greeted adults as so-and-so’s mom whenever he saw you at school.

My colleagues did a great job capturing Deshon’s spirit in a remembrance, but how many times must we read stories like his before we take real action on gun violence?

Firearm-related deaths became the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19 years old in 2020, according to a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine last spring.

In 2022, 11% of homicides in the city of Atlanta were children and teens. During the holidays, just weeks before Deshon was killed, four other teens under the age of 18 died in shootings.

This week, AJC reporter Alexis Stevens wrote about Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens kicking off his “Year of the Youth” plan to help curb the violence among the city’s children and teenagers.

“The vast majority of our homicides are interpersonal — people that are acquaintances, people that are familiar to one another, domestic violence, you have a business relationship or a neighbor. They are angry. They have access to a gun. And they use it,” Dickens said.

The initiative includes programs such as a midnight basketball league and employment opportunities for teens during summer and winter breaks. Those are positive efforts, but they don’t address the most important part of Dickens’ statement, “They have access to a gun.”

Some people will read this column and they won’t connect the deaths of Deshon and the other teens that recently died in shootings to the 39 school shootings that have occurred in Georgia from 1970 through May 2022, or to the 51 kids in Georgia, age 19 and under, who were lost to firearm suicide deaths in 2019.

It is easier to parse the details of each incident and speculate on whether the perpetrators are criminals or mentally ill rather than focus on what we know for sure in every case — someone had access to a deadly weapon.

Every conversation about gun control quickly gets mired in politics and binary thinking. I wanted a fresh perspective, so I called Tyler Lee, a sophomore at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee who emailed me last year. Tyler has a history of political activism and was inspired to become a gun control advocate after the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school shooting in which 19 children and two teachers were killed.

Tyler Lee, a high school sophomore in Gwinnett County, wants state legislatures to take action on gun violence. Lee was moved to focus his advocacy on gun safety after the elementary school shootings in Uvalde, Texas. (Courtesy of Tyler Lee)

Credit: Tyler Lee

icon to expand image

Credit: Tyler Lee

“It dumbfounds me why legislators are not acting as fast as they should on the state level,” said Tyler when we talked by phone. “There are too many guns on the street, too many unregulated guns on the street and too many illegal gun sales happening that the state doesn’t even know about.”

Tyler said he has a healthy relationship with guns — his family goes target shooting in North Georgia during the holidays — and he has a profound respect for the Second Amendment, but he believes it is important to have commonsense gun laws and red flag laws, which would allow state courts to temporarily remove guns from people who are considered a danger to themselves or others.

The topic of gun control is a vibrant discussion among young people, said Tyler, who is a member of the student council at his school. Most kids believe there should be comprehensive gun safety legislation, he said. But he doesn’t believe state Republicans are willing to pass legislation that would keep children in Georgia safe.

“Legislators want to think the only respectable way to approach guns is to make sure there are no limitations or regulations at all, but someone who really respects the Second Amendment understands how dangerous guns are,” Tyler said.

A recent study from the nonprofit Rand Corp. found states that enacted laws aimed at making it harder for children to get their hands on guns, such as safe storage laws, reduced gun deaths by an average of 6%. States that introduced safe storage laws, in addition to eliminating stand your ground and permitless carry (both are legal in Georgia), could expect an 11% reduction in annual gun deaths.

The U.S. Senate is currently debating the Protecting Our Kids Act, which proposes a range of reforms including higher age limits for buying semi-automatic rifles, greater penalties for gun trafficking, updates to laws that prohibit untraceable firearms and safe storage of guns.

Georgia does not currently have safe storage laws though several city and county governments have taken steps to introduce ordinances in the absence of state or federal action.

Finding the sweet spot of legislation that is effective, constitutional and palatable to Georgia residents is the job of state lawmakers, but they must embrace the experiences of children like Deshon and Tyler and make the safety of all children a priority.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.