Opinion: When will enough be enough?

Another school shooting, another reminder of repeated systemic failures in gun violence


Jay Paul / Getty Images / TNS

Police tape hangs from a sign post outside Richneck Elementary School following a shooting on Jan. 7, 2023, in Newport News, Virginia. A 6-year-old student was taken into custody after reportedly shooting a teacher during an altercation in a classroom at Richneck Elementary School on Friday. The teacher, a woman in her 30s, suffered “life-threatening” injuries and remains in critical condition.

Vanessa Moreno, News Editor

Not even a week into the new year, the United States hit a new low where six-year-olds are now threats in school settings.

In Virginia, Richneck Elementary teacher Abigail Zwerner had been teaching as usual, only that on Jan. 6, she would end up in the hospital. After an “altercation,” a student pulled out the 9 mm Taurus firearm that would strike her through the chest and leave undeniable trauma for 16 other students.

Though there were no deaths, this abnormal situation is a reminder of the systemic failures of the U.S. government and, in this case, parents and schools. 

“Everything starts in the home” could not be more appropriate for this case. The gun reportedly belonged to the child’s mother, who bought it legally. In Virginia, it’s a misdemeanor to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm” in a way that endangers children. The mother, in part, bears responsibility for the tragedy. Guns should not be at children’s reach.

Equally as disappointing is that a 6-year-old knew how to work a gun. While guns serve for sport and hunting, there’s no reason for a child so young to be using one. Virginia authorities could potentially press neglect charges, and they rightfully should. There were no deaths, but there could have been. The child could have also harmed himself. Not to mention 16 children now live with the trauma of seeing their teacher shot. 

Before the shooting, Richneck Elementary received a tip that the first grader had a gun. Administrators searched his backpack but found nothing. Instead of taking additional precautions — further search, a lockdown or anything — the school dismissed the tip. As Desiree Yvette, whose child witnessed the shooting, said, “They should have searched in other places … and if they didn’t, they failed.”

The school had metal detector capabilities; it should have taken advantage of that. Ignoring the tip after not immediately finding the gun was not the right move. This is the third school shooting in that school district in 17 months. Though unfortunate, that should translate to better use of resources and serious consideration of threats. 

Of course, society can only rely so much on parents and schools. The institution protecting students and teachers should be the government. It only took six days into 2023 for a school shooting — and by a six-year-old, no less. That should be a wake-up call. 

Only in the U.S. could there be more guns than people and no ample regulation on them. Laws in place ban certain people from buying guns, but they aren’t enough. Currently, the U.S. lacks federal laws banning semi-automatic assault weapons or requiring firearm safety training, for instance. That is a problem. 

Gun control has become a partisan issue when it shouldn’t be. Not when the leading cause of death for children and young adults is firearm-related injuries. The Second Amendment can and should coexist with sensible gun laws. Students and teachers need meaningful legislation not “Sending my thoughts and prayers to XYZ school” tweets. 

The tragedy at Richneck Elementary is yet another reminder of that.