Opinion: Unprecedented School Shooting Case Proves to be Yet Another Reason for Effective Gun Legislation

Nanditha Ram '25

As 2023 just begins, school shootings continue to define the educational landscape of America. According to EdWeek, in the past month alone, the US has witnessed 6 school shootings, leading to 8 injuries and 2 casualties[1]. While alarming, the number is unsurprising, considering the 51 school shootings that occurred in 2022, the highest number seen up to this point [1]. This growing number of cases has prompted extensive legal discussion on how to combat the problem, through various types of gun and security legislation. Replicating this, on an individual level, each shooting case remains just as intricate and difficult to judge as the last. 

Yet, in an unprecedented case from Jan 9 [2], legislators were forced to raise the question – what should be done when the shooter in question is a first grader?

Rewind to January 6th 

On Friday, January 6th, a 6 year old student, whose name has not been released to the press yet, shot his teacher in his classroom, following an argument. According to Police Chief Steve Drew, the shooting was not accidental. The student had apparently threatened the teacher, Abby Zwerner, before the incident, leading up to the altercation [2]. He had brought a handgun to his school, Richneck Elementary School, showed it to several students and teachers beforehand, and finally, in an attack classified as premeditated, shot Zwerner twice, leading to a 2 week hospitalization and emotional and physical trauma for the teacher as well as the other students [3]. 

As Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney states, “on that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times… school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people” [3]. Reportedly, the boy had brought the gun out to recess during several instances, during which several teachers notified administration that he may have a gun in his possession. No action was taken, however.  Zwerner plans to sue for allegations of negligence by the school board. Additionally, school superintendent George Parker has been voted out of his position for this negligence.  [3]. 

An Unprecedented Case

Classifying such a young shooter as committing a premeditated crime is difficult to accept, even when these facts are considered. The superintendent himself ignored warnings that the boy had a gun, implying its improbability due to his “little pockets” [3]. Although the attack was premeditated, due to his age, it is unlikely the student will face trial. As Julie McConnell, law professor, states, “you have to be competent to stand trial in Virginia” and as a six year old, the boy was not the “age of understanding” [4]. That is, he cannot truly understand his rights and the crime committed in order to be tried in court. But more importantly, children this young do not have the capacity to commit such a crime intentionally, and cannot clearly comprehend the permanence of gun violence  [3]. So the question then becomes – who is to blame for such crimes, and hence how can they be prevented?

In order to answer this question, analysis of another case from 23 years ago helps, where a six year old boy fatally shot his classmate with his uncle’s illegally purchased gun. In this case, the boy lived with his uncle, in a “flophouse”(a cheap hotel) with an absent parents who were in jail. He and his siblings were often neglected by his uncle. In this case, Busch stated that, “he was treating [the gun] as if it was a toy, because I don’t think he had too many toys” [4]. Neglect, poor family circumstances, and illegal guns in conclusion lead to this unfortunate incident. 

Investigators continue to look for such indicators in the Richmond case. Yet, so far, the boy’s parents, who came out with a statement on January 19th, remain uncharged. So far, investigators have found no signs of neglect to explain the accident. As the boy’s parents state, he “suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day” [5] The week of the shooting was the first week his parents were not in class with him. Furthermore, the boy’s mom bought the gun in question legally, stating that they have always “[kept] firearms out of reach of children.” [5]. Hence the student’s actions cannot easily be blamed on simply neglect or family issues, which would make the case a tragic but isolated incident. Rather, both facts show that there are not always signals for such cases, and a similar situation could be replicated  in children from homes with normal family conditions. 

So, who is to blame?

If young shooters are not always prompted by circumstance, neglect, illegal situations, or schools to commit such crimes, who really holds the blame? The common rhetoric against gun legislation is that people kill others, not guns. Yet, clearly in this situation, and any involving children, this rhetoric cannot be applicable. An accident where an innocent child hurts or even kills another person is bound to occur when guns are allowed in private homes without proper regulation. Right now, gun deaths remain the leading cause of death from children 1-18, above cancer, suffocation, and car crashes in the US [6]. Furthermore, from 2020 to 2021, there was a 74% increase in deaths of children 9 and younger by guns.  These are not isolated incidents – they are signs of a larger issue. 

Guns should not be kept freely in American households. When the children of America are in danger, by adults, but also by themselves, increased gun legislation needs to become a unified proposition to ensure the safety of our future generations.


[2] https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/06/us/newport-news-virginia-shooting/index.html

[3] https://apnews.com/article/newport-news-school-shooting-a40dfad64388aadf1f90211177412522


[5] https://abcnews.go.com/US/family-6-year-shot-teacher-speaks-1st-time/story?id=96536112

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/12/14/magazine/gun-violence-children-data-statistics.html?searchResultPosition=2