Congratulations to the winners in this year’s Americans Against Gun Violence National High School Essay Contest! Their outstanding essays are posted below.

The prompt for the 2020 contest was the following position statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in April of 2000:

Firearm regulations, to include bans of handguns and assault weapons, are the most effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries.

The contest was open to all high school students in the United States and its territories. Students were asked to describe their thoughts about the above position statement in 500 words or less. The essays were read by more than 20 Americans Against Gun Violence supporters and rated based on the criteria of accuracy, originality, clarity, cohesiveness, and overall impact.

We initially announced that Americans Against Gun Violence would be awarding a total of $15,000 in this year’s contest, distributed among twelve essay contest winners. After reading all of this year's entries, however, we decided that there were so many compelling essays that we would increase the total amount of awards to $16,200, distributed among 24 winners. Also, we decided to ask Dr. Michael North, who lost his five year old daughter, Sophie, in the 1996 mass shooting at the elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and who subsequently helped lead a successful campaign to completely ban civilian ownership of handguns in the United Kingdom, to make the final decision concerning the first, second, and third place winners. Dr. North not only graciously accepted this responsibility, he also recorded a moving video message concerning the importance of the students' essays and the hope they give him that the United States of America will finally take definitive steps, comparable to the ones that Great Britain took over two decades ago, to end our country's epidemic of gun violence.

Although we believe that our annual essay contest provides an important platform for students to publicize their views on the subject of preventing gun violence, as in past years, a number of our 2020 essay contest winners have chosen to not have their names and/or high school affiliations released in association with their essays. We understand the concerns of these students, and we support their decisions to withhold identifying information from the public. We are at the same time deeply concerned, though, about the toxic atmosphere in our country that not only makes students legitimately fear the possibility of becoming victims of gun violence, but also of being subjected to intimidation in one form or another (including a death threat in the case of one of this year’s winners) if they openly express their opinions on the subject of gun control. It is part of the mission of Americans Against Gun Violence to not only protect the physical safety of our children and youth, but to also protect their psychological well-being and to eradicate the culture of fear that suppresses open, objective discussion concerning the need for urgent, definitive action to end our country's epidemic of gun violence, an epidemic that disproportionately harms our children and our youth.

We hope that you’ll read all of the winning essays, and that you’ll be as moved by them as we are. We also hope that you’ll agree with us that our annual Americans Against Gun Violence National High School Essay Contest is an important way of fostering and rewarding critical thinking among our youth on the issue of gun violence prevention, and that you’ll consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the essay contest fund to help ensure that we’re able to continue to offer the contest in future years.

Here are this year’s winning essays:

 

First Place Winner ($3,000 Award)

Kobi Khong

Yorba Linda High School

Yorba Linda, California

A Shot in the Dark

...I’ve grown up in a generation of children where our greatest fears aren't tests, but rather forgetting to say goodbye; where every single word said must be thought out since no one knows which words might be our last; where our core curriculum includes learning to cower under counters and calm our classmates’ crying....We’ve forced children to become adults far sooner than they should have to. It’s not only terrifying, but it’s also disheartening, that even after all the mass shootings, legislation wise, nothing has changed....How much longer will it take, and how many more innocent lives will be lost, before our country overturns the [Supreme Court's 2008] rogue Heller decision and adopts definitive gun control laws, including bans on civilian ownership of handguns and assault weapons? [Read the full essay]

 

Second Place Winner ($2,500 Award)

(Student’s name withheld at student’s request)

Aragon High School

San Mateo, California

Untitled

...Our response to COVID-19 has spawned economic uncertainty and roiled financial markets. The threat has disrupted travel plans for millions of Americans, produced quarantines, and generated almost non-stop news coverage. But as deadly as the coronavirus pandemic has been for older adults and people with other serious underlying medical illnesses...infection with COVID-19 causes little or no symptoms in most children and youth....Meanwhile, another epidemic that kills an estimated 40,000 Americans every year and that disproportionately affects children and youth rages unabated and with far less public alarm....[Read the full essay]

 

Third Place Winner ($2,000 Award)

(Student’s name and high school withheld at student’s request)

Never Again

How many times does our country have to say “Never again?” to another mass shooting?...We said it for Columbine in 1999, for Sandy Hook in 2012, and for Orlando in 2016. We said it again in 2017 for Las Vegas. And we shouted it on February 14th, 2018 for Parkland....Although many people claim that we won’t be able to end the gun violence epidemic in our country any time soon, I have hope that we will....I have hope that our generation has the power to say, for the last time, “Never again.” [Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

Hasan Alsamman

Bella Vista High School

Fair Oaks, California

Protecting Our Core Values

...In 2017, civilian gun-related deaths reached their highest level in U.S. history....This is the clear reality of gun violence in America – a reality that is inconsistent with our core values....There is undeniable evidence that the adoption of stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in other advanced democratic countries, including bans on handguns and assault rifles, would drastically reduce rates of firearm-related deaths and injuries in our country. Though we are faced with a deeply rooted opposition, if we are true to our core values, we cannot stop pushing for these regulations, as tens of thousands of American lives are at stake every year. [Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

Rom David Arca

John F. Kennedy High School

Sacramento, California

The Last Thing Our Family Needs Is A Gun

...Watching the news, I saw gun stores with lines stretching around the block. Buyers justified their purchases with fears of looting, with some dismissing criticisms with a wordy reference to the Second Amendment or prideful remarks that flaunt ownership of semiautomatic rifles like, “Say that to my AR-15.”...Growing up in a culture that is a foil to American individualism, I’ve always been fascinated by the zeal in people’s excuses for gun ownership, especially of assault weapons. I see the defense of gun ownership as a product of machismo and an irrational cling to a sense of power....The last thing our family needs is a gun. [Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

(Student’s name and high school withheld at student’s request)

I Miss You

...When the final bell rang, I went to my friends to give each other hugs and laughs. I immediately noticed someone was missing, and had been missing school for a week now. At the time, I thought nothing of it; it was normal to leave school a week before break....At home, I decided to scroll through my Instagram, when suddenly like an ambush, calls and texts flooded my phone....My friend who had been gone for a week had committed suicide. The next day, I learned that my friend used his father’s gun. [Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

Finn Jacobson

(High School name withheld at student's request)

Portland, Oregon

The Epidemic They Ignore

...I have spent the last two years of my life begging adults to listen, drafting proposed gun violence prevention legislation myself and lobbying at our State Capitol. Over the past few months, I’ve seen legislators who have long turned a blind eye to our pleas to take definitive action to stop our country’s deadly epidemic of gun violence suddenly spring into action in response to the coronavirus pandemic. "It's a crisis," they say, and yet so is gun violence....It’s well documented that infection with COVID-19 causes minimal if any symptoms in most children and youth, yet we are taking it seriously in order to safeguard our elders. We are staying home and abiding by the regulations....When the coronavirus pandemic is over, how will the adults in power protect our health in return for our dedication to protecting theirs? [Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

Katie Kenny

Oak Ridge High School

El Dorado Hills, California

This Is Not A Drill: Addressing The Gun Violence Issue In America

Run. Hide. Fight. Year after year, teachers instruct their students about what to do in the event of an active shooting, conditioning students to create a plan on how to make it out of school without gunshot wounds. In each of my classrooms, I know which cabinets I can fit in, the objects I can throw, and the routes I can run to avoid being gunned down....[Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

(Student’s name and high school withheld at student’s request)

All Is Not Well: A Call To Action

...Nearly 40,000 people lose their lives to firearms every year in this country, and that rate is increasing. People of every color and creed are forced into fear because, in a country with more guns than people, everyone is a potential threat. The United States has a gun problem. What have we done to fix it? Nothing. We’ve given the victims: innocent men, women, and children, our hollow thoughts and prayers instead of our protection....This isn’t the American way. Enough is enough. It’s time to fight back. [Read the full essay]

 

$1,000 Award Winner

(Student’s name and high school withheld at student’s request)

Gun Violence: America's Lost Promise

....In some U.S. states, students can legally get an AR-15 before a high school diploma. Only in America....March of this year was the first March without a school shooting since 2002, courtesy of COVID-19. Yet the gun violence epidemic draws comparatively little attention....Our relationship with guns has grown from an affection to an addiction. As a nation, we are poorer for it. The dead and wounded are America’s lost promise. [Read the full essay]

 

$250 Award Winner

Lindsey Perry

Fairfield Ludlow High School

Fairfield, Connecticut

Changing the Narrative: Creating a New Normal Without Gun Violence

I was 7 years old when I learned about school shootings and ironically I was sitting in school when I did. I remember the look of anguish on my 2nd-grade teacher’s face as she explained to her class of seven-year-olds about the Sandy Hook shooting merely 30 min from our school. Back then I didn’t understand the concept of using a gun to hurt others, but now I do....[Read the full essay]

 

$250 Award Winner

Mayur Talele

Herricks High School

New Hyde Park, New York

Now Is The Time For Change

...There is a need for the youth of our generation to step up and remind the nation that during a time of many struggles, including the Covid-19 pandemic, in the long term, gun violence is our country’s most deadly epidemic of all....Most other advanced democratic nations promptly adopted stringent gun control laws in response to mass shootings. We, the United States, have already experienced enough mass shootings. We do not need to live through more to understand that now is the time for change. [Read the full essay]

 

$100 Award Winner

Sarah Allen

El Dorado High School

Placerville, California

Life or Liberty

...Gun regulation is the most effective tool to reduce gun violence. So, if politicians are truly concerned about my education, and about my potential as a consumer, voter, and worker whose role and responsibility it will be to uphold the future American economy and democracy, where is my protection?...I ask you, where is my safety, and the safety of my friends, peers, and teachers? Where is the law, created specifically so that I have the right to my "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?" Pro-gun politicians and protesters always seem to focus on the second aspect - on their liberty. But I ask, I demand: what good is your liberty if it infringes on my life?

 

$100 Award Winner

Nishant Balaji

Folsom High School

Folsom, California

Untitled

Guns....People justify their right to own these deadly weapons by citing the Second Amendment, but how many have actually read it? The Second Amendment states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."...The phrase that's most commonly thrown around is "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms."... But what of the rest of the amendment? Where in our society today, do we see "a well regulated Militia?"...The Second Amendment is a relic from an old time that does not apply any longer....

 

$100 Award Winner

(Student's name withheld at student's request)

Casa Roble Fundamental High School

Orangevale, California

Untitled

...Many Americans against stricter gun control are quick to claim that more regulations would infringe upon their ability to protect themselves and their families against violent perpetrators and a tyrannical government....However, in reality guns are rarely used in self-defense, and are the least employed protective behavior when violent crimes occur....It's time to open our eyes to the glaringly obvious pattern that repeats itself every day across America....Will we continue to accept our new reality of continuous fear...at the hands of laws that sacrifice security over an unfounded "right?"...Our truly inalienable rights are infringed upon when unqualified citizens are given access to dangerous firearms which were created with no other purpose than to harm and kill, and do just that to innocents who live in a country that values much else over the safety of its people.

 

$100 Award Winner

(Student's name and high school withheld at student's request)

Gun Debate: Trumping Common Sense

With more than 393 million firearms in circulation - five guns for every family of four - there are more weapons than people in the United States. In 2018 alone, 39,740 people died from gun-related injuries....Firearm regulation is not only the best way to treat this contagion, it is our only hope....Politics has trumped common sense in the gun law debate. As a nation, we are the poorer for it. America must bolster its defense against gun violence with regulations - the most effective tool we have.

 

$100 Award Winner

(Student's name and high school withheld at student's request)

Untitled

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people!" Day in and day out, gun advocates echo these words. However, this simply isn't true. When the autopsy is revealed, death by gunshot and internal bleeding is the result, not death by person. "Firearm regulations, to include bans of handguns and assault weapons, are the most effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries." This phrase is true, and needs to be addressed to better resolve the gun violence issues in America today....

 

$100 Award Winner

Ashley Lucia

Granite Bay High School

Granite Bay, California

We Must Act Now

...I've been raised in a sheltered, small community for the entirety of my childhood. A place where citizens rarely question their security and children are safe to explore outdoors....Just last month, a man shot his wife and then himself within the confines of these same boundaries....Did anger, power, or jealousy fuel his actions?...A single weapon represents the difference between life and death for a victim....How many lives could be saved if [perpetrators] were unable to obtain the firearm?...Americans are twenty-five times more likely to be killed with a gun then any other nation. Fire-arm regulations can save us and will save us -- but we must act now....

 

$100 Award Winner

(Student's name and high school withheld at student's request)

The Answer

One day in the future, my kids will ask me, "Mommy, what were your teenage years like?" I could sugarcoat it and tell them that it was the best thing ever and I never had a care in the world, or I could tell them the truth. I could tell them about how no matter the month or time of day, there always seemed to be a mass shooting. I could tell them how some days I was worried to go to school or even out in certain communities without fears of gun violence....I want to be able to tell them that I took part in making a change. That I helped to stop the chaos in America, and saved peoples lives. I don't want my kids to grow up with the same fear that I had; I want to be able to send them to school and know that I will always be able to pick them up at the end of the day....

 

$100 Award Winner

Kareena Modha

Lincoln High School

Portland, Oregon

Too Much for Too Long

n the April 2000 issue of its journal, Pediatrics, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) addressed the severity and morbidity of firearm-related injury to children and adolescents. The issue ...states "Firearm regulations, to include bans of handguns and assault weapons, are the most effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries"...For too long now, the American government has never sufficiently or successfully properly legislated gun ownership. Nor has it adequately addressed the devastating reality of gun violence....Those in power have turned a blind eye to a situation that cannot afford to be ignored any longer. Therefore, the question still remains: how many people are going to lose their lives until proper action is taken?

 

$100 Award Winner

Jessica Osuna

Del Oro High School

Loomis, California

Lives Above Guns

Gun violence isn't just something I hear about on the news occasionally, it has impacted me directly. In the late '90s, my grandfather was held at gunpoint at his workplace, a church. I've known people who have died as victims of drive-by shootings. My school shows us videos of how to handle ourselves if an active shooter comes on campus. We've had ten active shooter drills since I've been in high school and not one earthquake drill. Gun violence isn't an imaginary "what-if," it's a realistic possibility. The idea of myself or a loved one dying at the hands of a legally or illegally purchased gun is a harsh reality....

 

$100 Award Winner

Madison Roeschke

Saugus High School

Santa Clarita, California

Will I Die Wearing My Backpack?

On the morning of November 14th, 2019, my sister and I sat down inside a classroom we hung out in every morning. On our way there I sent my boyfriend a video of me and my sister's feet in sync as we walked side by side. We laughed, as we often do or say things in sync....Then I heard the first gunshot....Gracie [female student killed] and Dominic [male student killed] should still be here and they very likely would be if there was a ban on handguns and other assault weapons. A student like Nathan [shooter who also killed himself] could have been prevented from bringing a weapon such as a gun on to campus, murdering and harming others....Every night as I try to fall asleep the shooting crosses my mind. I often have nightmares where I'm stuck in that same situation, crying because I'm not sure whether or not I'll survive. Will the last moments of my life be at school? Will I have to die wearing my backpack?...

 

$100 Award Winner

(Student's name withheld at student's request)

Cosumnes Oaks High School

Elk Grove, California

Gun Regulation: America Can Do Better

The land of the free and home of the brave; where the false interpretation of the "right to bear arms" is seemingly more important than innocent lives. This is our America....March 2020 was the first March since 2002 that a school shooting did not occur, which is a result of precautions taken by the U.S. government to limit the spread of COVID-19. It took a health pandemic to cause school shootings to cease....With the countless school shooter emergencies and lockdowns that I have experienced, it is insulting that lawmakers view the gun epidemic that has ravaged my generation as so insignificant that they are only willing to save us when they deem it absolutely necessary [to limit the spread of COVID-19]. If stronger firearm regulations had been enacted, Columbine may not have happened.. nor Sandy Hook... nor Pulse Night Club, Las Vegas, Parkland, nor countless others....

 

$100 Award Winner

(Student's name and high school withheld at student's request)

Untitled

Eventually, every teenager learns that they are just as vulnerable as everybody else. I learned this on November 14, 2019, when my bubble of invincibility was shot through by a small personally assembled gun....A handgun that even without being a semi-automatic assault rifle managed to take three lives and spill the horrors of gun violence onto an innocent learning environment.  Immediately, America came down on us in a frenzy with news coverage and heartfelt messages from politicians. However, despite this brief commotion, Americans have proven their desensitization to violence - especially of shootings that result in the deaths of their innocent children - and no matter the interviews and photos, my school wasn't the first school shooting, nor was it the last....The question that I want to ask America is this: how many more students will lay down their lives to protect America's "right to bear arms?"