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The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest

SMNW

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Increasing rates of gun violence in the KC area has a deadly impact on teens
A+Kansas+City+Police+Officer+stands+behind+police+tape+Feb.+14+at+Crown+Center.+Officers+surrounded+the+area+after+a+mass+shooting+occurred+following+the+Chiefs+Super+Bowl+Parade+leaving+one+dead+and+over+20+injured.+The+situation+ended+in+two+juveniles+being+put+in+custody.+Photo+by+Haylee+Bell
Haylee Bell
A Kansas City Police Officer stands behind police tape Feb. 14 at Crown Center. Officers surrounded the area after a mass shooting occurred following the Chiefs Super Bowl Parade leaving one dead and over 20 injured. The situation ended in two juveniles being put in custody. Photo by Haylee Bell

On Nov. 16, senior DeMarcus Houston was rushed to the hospital after being shot in Kansas City, MO, two miles from the Arrowhead Stadium. 

He did not survive.

Junior Amare Williams was scrolling on his phone when he saw the news. His reaction, disbelief.

“I was confused ‘cause I was like, he’s not dead ‘cause he was here yesterday.” Williams said. “I saw a post like ‘Rest up little homie’. And I was just like, dang. He’s gone.”

He texted Houston just to make sure the news was true.

No answer. 

A few days ago they were talking. A few weeks ago they were placing bets on games. A few months ago Houston’s cousin had asked Williams to look over him once he transferred schools. 

While Houston was new to Northwest, he sat in class, waited in the lunch line, heard the static of Mr. Haney’s walkie talkie.

Now he’s gone.

Increasing rates of gun violence in the KC area are targeting adolescents on street corners, by bus stops and in parking lots. Not only are teenagers the perpetrators of this violence, but are finding themselves more in the line of fire.

The Kansas City area hit a record-number of homicides in 2023, peaking at 182 killings according to a Daily Homicide Analysis provided by the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, which is 12 more than the previous year. 

In the last five years there’s been a 21% increase in killings across all demographics.

However, there’s been a 280% increase across ages 0-17. 

Houston was one of these victims.

Northwest student resource officer Mark Coenen has been on the force 27 years. He expects rates of gun violence amongst adolescents to continue to increase. 

“I don’t know why it’s on the rise and more younger people are resorting to gun ,” Coenen said. “I think 20 maybe 30 years ago where someone was mad at somebody, they would fight and punch it out with their fists. But it seems like today younger people are resorting towards using guns to solve those problems rather than using their fists. Why that is, I have no idea.”

Gun violence is the third-leading cause of death in teens according to the Population Reference Bureau. A 2023 Johns Hopkins study states gun violence is the leading cause of death in all children in America. 

In an Instagram poll posted by the Northwest Passage, 35% of respondents said they have been affected by gun violence in the KC area. The poll was posted before the shooting at the Super Bowl parade in downtown Kansas City, which killed one and injured more than 20 others.

One million people were estimated to attend the parade, the shooters and the victims were predominantly children. Many Shawnee Mission Northwest students went to the parade and were witness to the events at Union Station, including sophomore Haylee Bell. 

I was inside the hotel sleeping,” Bell said. “I hear the siren and see a bunch of cop cars. My first thought was that was just part of the parade. Then my mother comes in and says there’s a shooting going on. I immediately run to the window, and I see cops running straight toward them.”

Other events in the last year alone affecting Shawnee Mission students include a gun threat at Shawnee Mission East on Nov. 30, a fight where a firearm was allegedly pulled in a fight after a football game in the parking lot of Shawnee Mission South, an incident regarding a shot being fired at Oak Park Mall and a shooting near the Crown Center food court.

In Coenen’s 19 years of working with the district, he estimates that twice he’s had an experience with a student bringing a firearm to school. While this is rare, posts across social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitch often display teenagers glorifying weapon possession and use.

“I see it on snap stories and Instagram stories all the time,” sophomore Bella Alvarado said. “Guys waving guns at the camera and they are usually not much older than I am.”

Juan Campos, an outreach worker who works with at-risk teens to avoid gun violence, told NPR in August of 2023 that petty arguments and online disputes can lead to deadly violence.

“It’s hundreds of people on social media, versus just one or two people trying to guide youth in a positive way,” Campos said. 

Sometimes he gives them warnings, expanding on the deadly consequences that can arise from violent actions, but “it doesn’t work all the time.”

The amount of shootings in Kansas City has sparked talk of gun law restrictions amongst local politicians. 

In response to the Super Bowl Parade shooting, Missouri House Democrats have said they will aim to defer bills authorizing concealed weapons in churches and exempting firearms from sales tax. Crystal Quade, the Minority Leader in the Missouri House of Representatives and candidate for Governor, said at a press conference on Feb. 20 that she wants to introduce a constitutional amendment that give cities the ability to override state gun laws. 

Missouri State Senator Bill Eigel, a Republican campaigning for Governor, made a social media post on Feb. 15 hinting that a lack of firearms was responsible for the crossfire.

“One good guy with a gun could have stopped the evil criminals who opened fire on the crowd immediately,” Eigel wrote. “Guns don’t kill people. Thugs and criminals kill people.”

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly sides with stricter gun law.

“Prevalence of gun violence has invaded our schools, our campuses, our entertainment venues, our workplaces and our homes,” Kansas Governer Laura Kelly said at an address at Kansas State on Feb. 16. “I look forward to the day when we can have open, honest discussions about the cause and work towards a safer society for all of us.”

The influx of gun-related incidents regarding teenagers has led to the gun debate spilling into Northwest, too.

Kansas City, or KCMO not the safest,” senior Spencer Creedon said. “I’ve been in most of those parts where I’ve seen people get mugged or robbed off the street. And it’s one of those things where it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of whether you’re going to protect yourself or not.” 

Some students such as Creden believe the answer to decreasing rates of gun violence amongst adolescents is to lower gun restrictions. Senior Kayley Givner, president of Young Democrats, takes an opposing view.

“I don’t think there’s avoid this from happening,” Givner said in reference to the parade shooting. “Bad people are always going to find a way to do bad things. It’s in our rights that you can carry a gun. I don’t see that ever going away. It’s going to be hard to change. I think the government has stepped in before and it’s definitely their time to step in again. It’s an overwhelming issue that needs to be discussed because people’s lives are at risk. We see this every single day.”

Some believe rates of gun violence involving teens will continue to rise in the KC area unless a change is made.

Houston is a victim of this trend.

“I showed him classes where I usually go,” Williams said. “And all my friends. We were at the lunch table roasting each other before he passed. I said ‘Your nose strong,’ he said, ‘Bro you got a flexible forehead.’”

“It didn’t make any sense,” Williams said.

They still laughed.

According to Williams, Houston loved to make money and play basketball. The two played 2K and Madden, talked sneakers, and watched “Baddies East.”

“It’s kind of a ghetto show,” Williams said, laughing. “I’m pretty sure when you see him, you probably thought he looked ghetto. Like the way he dressed and the way he talked. So I just wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t. He was nice. He was chill. You could always talk to him no matter what.” 

 They took turns driving whenever they got food. Houston was always showing him new spots in the city, always eager to pay. 

In class, Houston was quiet, a hard worker. Music was his passion.

He texted Houston just to make sure.

No answer.

Houston was on the path to graduation, he had hopes of making “beats”, even starting his own clothing line.

“When he passed away I just lost another friend to gun violence,” Williams said. “I don’t really know how to explain it.”

 

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Sofia Ball, Writer
Hi! My name is Sofia Ball and I am a writer for the Northwest Passage. Writing started out as a hobby for me. Something I never imagined I would be good at until about 7th grade after taking a creative writing class with Dr. Van Zant. I just started out as a freshman, and already, I've come to know and love many of the classes, teachers and students here at Northwest. I’d like to think of myself as an extrovert, but most of my freetime is spent either reading, writing or watching Netflix in my bedroom. I used to watch The Office all the time before it got removed. The only time you'll ever see me out and about is probably at Cross Country or Track practice. You may even see me handing out our latest newspaper issues around the school.

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