Announcing the Opening of our 2021 National High School Essay Contest – with a mixture of some pleasure and great concern
A Message from the President of Americans Against Gun Violence
It’s with a mixture of some pleasure and also great concern that I’m posting this message to announce that our 2021 Americans Against Gun Violence National High School Essay Contest is now open to all U.S. high school students.
I’m pleased that this is the fourth consecutive year that we’re hosting the contest and that this year’s awards will bring the total amount of money that we’ve given to deserving high school students to over $60,000. The reasons for my great concern, however, are reflected in the prompt for this year’s contest. Rather than asking students to write about a quotation solely related to gun violence prevention as we’ve done in previous contests, this year we’re asking students to respond to the following prompt:
“Describe the effect on American youth of the confluence of our country’s longstanding gun violence epidemic with the current Covid-19 pandemic and the threat of violent insurrection; and describe what role you believe the adoption of stringent gun control laws should play at this critical time in our nation’s history.”
I’m appending the prompts that we used for our previous essay contests below. Although the prompt for the 2020 essay contest, which we chose in December of 2019 (before the first reported Covid-19 case in the United States), had nothing directly to do with the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the winning essays in last year’s contest, which are posted on the High School Essay Contest page of this website, described the severe physical and mental strain that American youth already faced by the essay contest deadline in mid-April as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic coming on top of our protracted gun violence epidemic. Several students noted that the early part of 2020 was the first time in many years that there had not been a tragic mass shooting on a school campus – not as a result of the adoption of stringent gun control laws, but rather as a result of schools being closed in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19. And a number of students also commented on the disparity between the extreme measures that were being taken to address the Covid-19 pandemic as compared with the indifference that most lawmakers exhibited toward the gun violence epidemic – an epidemic that disproportionately affects our youth.
As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded during the rest of 2020, although children and youth rarely suffered serious illness or death as a result of Covid-19, in many ways, they were the ones who were forced to make the greatest sacrifices in order to try to reduce rates of coronavirus related morbidity and mortality in older generations. The rates of Covid-19 related infections and deaths surged at the end of 2020, and preliminary records indicate that gun sales and gun deaths also reached record highs in our country in 2020. On top of this, the year ended with a presidential election like no other in U.S. history, with the incumbent, Donald Trump, denying the clear result that he had lost the free and fair election, and with millions of Americans, including many Republican members of Congress, agreeing with him. And now, the New Year has begun like no other in our nation’s history, with thousands of insurrectionists, incited by Donald Trump, violently attacking the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President-elect; and with the credible threat of more violence to come throughout our country perpetrated by heavily armed paramilitary groups intent on disrupting the democratic process and imposing their own will.
One of the purposes of our annual Americans Against Gun Violence National High School Essay Contest is to foster and reward critical thinking among our youth. There is obviously a great need for better critical thinking skills on the part of a large segment of the adult population in our country as well. It’s unfortunate that we don’t presently have the resources to open our 2021 essay contest to people of all ages in the United States. I hope, though, that you’ll help publicize our 2021 contest, not only to high school students and high school educators with whom you have contact, but to anyone else who you think might be open minded enough to consider the extreme danger posed by the plethora of privately owned guns in circulation at this critical juncture in our nation’s history and the need to adopt stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws that have long been in effect in all the other high income democratic countries of the world. An essay contest flyer and full details concerning our 2021 essay contest are posted on the High School Essay Contest page of this website.
Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who made monetary contributions to Americans Against Gun Violence in 2020 to support our work, including our annual high school essay contest. If you made a contribution in late December and you haven’t received a personal thank you from me, you’ll be receiving one soon. And whether or not you made a contribution in 2020, if you could make a monetary donation now to support our work going forward, including future essay contests, it would be greatly appreciated.
I often end my president’s messages by thanking supporters for helping us show that we’re a country that loves its children more than its guns. I’ll end this message by also thanking you for helping us show that we love our democracy more than our guns.
Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Essay Contest Prompts Used in Past Years
(Click on the year to read the winning essays.)
2018: “The time has now come that we must adopt stringent gun control legislation comparable to the legislation in force in virtually every civilized country in the world.” – The Late Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, June of 1968
2019: “The Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.'” – Excerpt from the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion in the 1980 case of Lewis v. United States
2020: “Firearm regulations, to include bans of handguns and assault weapons, are the most effective way to reduce firearm related injuries.” – Position Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, issued in April of 2000.