Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

School violence weighs heavily on students

850 gather at Sun Youth Forum

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Aaron Mayes/Las Vegas Sun

Western High School senior Dionna Simpson, left, waits her turn as fellow Western senior Jessica Senter voices her opinion during the Sun Youth Forum Thursday, Nov. 23, 1999 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Her first three years of high school, Dionna Simpson waited in line every morning to come on campus through a metal detector.

At her inner-city Chicago high school, police came once a month to X-ray every book bag coming into the school, airport-style with a conveyor belt.

Now in her senior year at Western High School, rather than enjoying a freedom from metal detectors and book bag X-rays, she says she feels unsafe at school.

"Anyone can bring a gun to school, and I don't want to be sitting next to them if it accidentally goes off," she said.

That possibility -- and the memory of a day last April when two students in Colorado brought weapons onto their campus and killed 15 people including themselves -- weighed heavily on the minds of the 850 Clark County high school juniors and seniors gathered Tuesday for the 44th Sun Youth Forum.

The forum brings students together to discuss an array of topics important to them and the country they will soon have the responsibility of running. But in every discussion, from the United Nations' role in the world to biracial dating, one word came up over and over: Columbine. Talk turned repeatedly to school violence.

Simpson said even though she lived in a rough neighborhood where she wasn't allowed out of her house after dark, when she was at school she felt absolutely safe. Now that she is in Las Vegas, she said, "when you walk into the hallway, you might as well be walking out of your house."

Simpson also said she doesn't think her school does enough to keep people off campus who don't belong there, so that even if a student doesn't bring violence to the campus, anyone else can.

"I'm going to school to learn, not to fight or get killed," Simpson said.

A discussion on gun control in America turned into a debate over whether stricter laws might have prevented the Columbine shootings. Jessica Senter, a Western High School senior, said that while she doesn't think gun laws could have avoided the shootings, she'd like to see new legislation anyway.

"There should be stricter laws," she said, "but you can't take guns away because it only puts them in the hands of criminals."

Other students disagreed, noting that anyone who wants a gun can get one on the black market.

"Having so many laws is ineffective if the community can't back them," Anthony Alexis, Las Vegas Academy senior, said. "People wanting gun control shouldn't sit at home with their virtues. American citizens have to believe in their system."

At least one student said no gun control is necessary. "It's not the guns that kill people, people kill people," Emily Barton, Basic High School senior, said. "I have a gun -- that doesn't mean that I'm going to kill someone."

A discussion on the United Nations' role in the world prompted one student to say, "We wouldn't have wanted the U.N. to come help with the Columbine situation."

During a discussion on teen suicide Tim Elson, Green Valley High School junior, turned the topic back to school violence. While Clark County schools are "OK," he said, there are fights at his school. But, he added, "If we are already down that far where we need metal detectors, let us all die."

"Metal detectors don't decrease violence, they decrease fear," David Quesada, a Palo Verde senior, said.

Simpson said she can understand the reluctance to submitting to detectors and other strict measures, but she added, "Colorado isn't that far away."

But, she said, she wants to get through school alive, even if that means that she and everyone else have to wear badges announcing their class schedules at all times, walk through a metal detector every morning and give up lockers or let them be searched.

Schools in Chicago have had protective measures for so long, no one questions them, said Simpson, who maintains a 3.8 grade point average. "This is like a fairyland here. No one thinks anything will happen, but anything can happen anywhere.

"You never hear about kids getting shot in school in Chicago. Look where it happens -- some suburb in Colorado."