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The role of teenagers in mass shootings has called into question how easy it is for them to acquire firearms.

In recent years, US teenagers have been involved in gun violence in alarming numbers, both as perpetrators and victims.

In 2020,  gun violence was the top cause of death for children and teenagers (1 to 19 years old), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As if that were not alarming enough, 2021 saw the most gun violence on K-12 campuses since 1999, with 42 shootings, according to a Washington Post database.

As recently as Tuesday, the deadliest school shooting in Texas history was reported. It happened at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, where 18-year-old Salvador Ramos allegedly killed 19 students and two teachers. Before going to school, the young man reportedly shot his grandmother too.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 200 mass shootings in the US in 2022 already.

The Uvalde shooting happened just 10 days after another 18-year-old allegedly killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York.

RELATED: Una Dura Realidad: Gun Violence Disproportionally Affects Black and Latino Communities. Here’s What Needs to Be Done.

How Are Teens Getting Access to Guns?

Alex Barrio, advocacy director of gun violence prevention policy at the Center of American Progress, said teens are getting guns both legally and illegally.

The expert said that while in some states you have to be 21 to purchase a firearm, in many states it is legal to buy a gun when you are 18, like in Texas, where alleged shooter Salvador Ramos bought two firearms for his 18th birthday. 

“The open Michigan shooter, he got his gun as a gift from his parents. There are a lot of parents who have a rich gun culture in their families. This is common, especially with families who hunt, they will give their son a gun,” Barrio told Floricua, referring to 16-year-old ​​Ethan Crumbley, who killed four students and injured 7 in Oxford High School, last November in Michigan.

Some of the illegal ways teens acquire guns include stealing them from their parents, buying them online, and at gun shows.

“The federal background check law does not apply to private gun sales. It’s known as the gun show loophole, and there are videos of this, people who are under 18, going to gun shows, buying [guns] without any sort of background check, without even having their ID tag. Also, ordering online, arranging it through internet marketplaces,” Barrio explained.

In many of the shootings perpetrated by teens, authorities have later confirmed that people who knew the shooters noticed warning signs.

Even though each case is different, Barrios said that there are some signs to watch out for. For example, the Buffalo shooting suspect Payton Gendron admitted to animal cruelty in his diary. He also sold all his personal belongings, and with the money he earned, he built an arsenal in his parents’ house.

“Specifically with the case in Buffalo, last year he threated suicide, he threated a school shooting, he was under investigation by the FBI. His parents could file what is known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order or a Red Flag Law. When you file one of those, the police take away the individual’s gun, and they need to go to court to get them back after having a mental health analysis. And he can also be forbidden from buying guns for as long as three years,” Barrio explained.

But the director makes it clear that people who are planning a shooting will look for a gun legally or illegally.

That’s why it is so important for parents and guardians of teenagers to watch out for unusual behavior. In addition to animal cruelty, another sign is domestic violence.

“A lot of shooters have a history of abusing family members, like the Sandy Hook shooter. There was a record of him physically assaulting his mother. Those warning signs are key, and they require really, really strong intervention,” said Barrio.

On Dec. 14, 2012, in ​​Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza, who was 20 years old and had a developmental disorder, killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. His mother, Nancy Lanza, was a gun enthusiast and had a large collection of weapons. He took two rifles from that collection, and before heading to the school, Lanza killed his mother.

It is also important to recognize that mental health, in general, has worsened in recent years, especially since the start of the pandemic.

Children and teens’ routines have been affected over the past two years. For that reason, parents should be vigilant and not let children be isolated for long periods of time and spend too much time on electronic devices. It is also imperative that parents review the content that children watch or play on the Internet, in video games, and on social media. 

“The best that we can do is get our kids off screens as much as possible. Get them jobs, get them in sports, recreational activities, and extracurricular activities. Get them out there, and figure out what their interests are that are not affiliated with screens. You cannot as a parent monitor what your child is looking at 24/7. So get them out in the real world,” Barrio said.

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