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Children Under Fire is an ongoing series examining how communities are affected when children are killed by gun violence. Since Memorial Day weekend, nine children have been killed by gun violence in the city. All of the victims have been black.If, upon reading any of these stories, you would like to provide more insight into the children's lives, please email feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

'Our Closest Friends Dying': How 2 Teens Navigate Life When Surrounded By Guns

Claudia Graham and Cassidy Stokes, both age 15, pose for a portrait at Normandy High School.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Claudia Graham and Cassidy Stokes, both age 15, pose for a portrait at Normandy High School.

Cassidy Stokes thought it would be him, not his younger brother, who’d be the first to encounter a bullet.

“It just scared me, traumatized me,” the 15-year-old said about the time his brother accidentally wounded himself with a gun he’d picked up.

Claudia Graham, also 15, relies on prayer to get home safely every night. Her sister was shot and injured by an upset boyfriend “basically for no reason.” Guns scare her. People shoot before thinking, she said, but as a young woman, she’d carry one for protection.

Guns and the violence they cause are part of life for teens in many parts of St. Louis, where more than a dozen children have been shot and killed in the past year.

But how do two teenagers who’ve both had siblings injured by bullets feel about guns?

St. Louis Public Radio invited Cassidy and Claudia, both sophomores at Normandy High School, to talk with one another about their experiences and thoughts about guns in their community.

Below are excerpts from their conversation.

What scares you about guns?

Claudia: What scares me about guns is that people take other people’s lives for granted. They do not care, they just shoot for no reason. And anybody could be around, but bullets don't have no names on them, so it could hit anybody. They don't think before they do their actions.

'Coming together would be the thing we need to stop the gun violence,' said Cassidy Stokes. 'We'd be a better world, a better community, a better St. Louis.'
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

How can you abstain from gun violence when it's so easy to be involved?

Cassidy: It's so easy to get a gun nowadays illegally, so you can find a gun or somebody will give you a gun nowadays. You probably want a gun because you feel like you need it, you never know, but you don't really need it. You’re not supposed to need it, because that's not how you supposed to feel in the public environment. It’s always supposed to feel safe in your environment. 


Do you think you need a gun?

Claudia: Yes, because they have a gun and they could take advantage of me with their guns, so I’d rather shoot them first than they take me or kill me. 

Cassidy: Personally, I don’t like guns; I wish it was never a thing, but it’s a lucrative tool out here nowadays because you need to protect yourself. People think that you need them, but people also abuse the right to have them. 

Do you feel safe knowing that St. Louis is surrounded by guns?

Cassidy: I feel safe in certain parts, I'm gonna be honest. In different parts of St. Louis, it’s high and low. So I just try to keep my head in the right lane and don't try to go and mess with nobody. Even just a little car crash can turn into a gunfight.

Claudia: Yeah, like you said, in some parts of St. Louis I do feel safe but not all the parts, because I know there’s some bad parts of St. Louis. But it's hard to do that because people, they think different from us. It’s just, they hating, all that bad stuff. They go against each other.

What are some solutions that will make people put the guns down?

Claudia: If leaders choose to put their guns down, be like, ‘This not right, we need to stop killing each other,’ [others] gonna put the guns down, too.

'What scares me about guns is that people take other people's lives for granted,' said Claudia Graham.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Cassidy: I agree with you. I think people nowadays just like violence, and it's not a good thing. So we just need more role models in the world to show them that we don't need that. And they can be us. They think it’s older people that need it, but it's really us. It’s not a lot of older people dying from gun violence. Right now, it’s a lot of teenagers dying, our closest friends dying out here in these streets. Because it's really, really dangerous.

What would this country be like if guns weren't allowed?

Cassidy: It'll be safer. I just think coming together will do it for us. Like, it's not really hard. I've seen it happen multiple times in St. Louis. So just coming together will be the thing we need to stop the gun violence. We’ll be a better world, better community, better St. Louis. That's all I want.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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