A 16-year-old survived being shot. Then at 18, he was on the other side of the gun. Now, at age 20, he talked to the Problem Solvers about youth gun violence.
AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — With his shirt lifted, Abel Shaw points to a tiny scar on his chest and another one near his armpit toward his back.
It’s where a bullet penetrated his skin at age 16. A third scar, near his ribcage, shows where medical personnel had to drain blood from his lungs, he said.
Shaw, who is now 20, told the Problem Solvers he did not panic during his brush with death.
“Everything is just quiet, and you can hear your heartbeat. You can just hear it, and it’s scary. You’re so zoned out. Everything around you is happening so fast, but in your head, everything is stopped,” he said.
Despite his near-death and the months of physical pain it caused, Shaw won’t talk about who pulled the trigger.
It was “John Doe,” he said, shaking his head.
The Problem Solvers asked Shaw why it was so important to keep the details private.
He replied, “There’s unwritten laws to the things that we do in our generation.”
Shooting victim becomes the shooter
It may be difficult for one to understand why Shaw would keep secret the identity of the person who nearly killed him, but Shaw has also been in that person’s shoes. He shot someone during an aggravated robbery when he was 18.
According to an arrest affidavit, Shaw told police he went with other teens as they were going to buy an AR-15-style rifle, but one of the friends threatened the seller with another gun and turned the purchase into a robbery.
The affidavit contains conflicting stories about who fired a weapon first, but the gun seller and two of Shaw’s friends all ended up getting shot.
“I had to use (a gun) because I was put in a predicament where it was fight or flight, and my chemical reaction in my brain did not say flight, it said, ‘Fight! Let’s fight,’ you know?”
He told the Problem Solvers how it felt to think about the consequences.
“It’s kind of like…like an impulse in your head, like it doesn’t turn off. Like, what if they die?” he said.
According to the arrest affidavit, the gun seller survived.
Why teens are getting guns
As Shaw waits to learn what price he may have to pay for the 2020 incident, he offered to explain why he believes so many teens are getting guns.
“There’s a lot of different reasons. A lot of different reasons,” he said. “Nobody wants to lose a fight. They’d rather shoot you with not knowing the consequence of shooting somebody than fighting and still getting the chance to go home at the end of the day and live another day just with their pride hurt.”
Shaw said kids also carry guns out of fear.
“You never know what could happen, so you’d rather be prepared to defend yourself and whoever you came with or whoever you are hanging around than be in a situation where you can’t defend yourself when the time is needed.”
Shaw said he and his friends want to have fun, travel and live life, but they are also scared to leave the house or hang out with friends.
Where teens are getting guns
Shaw said he had a “female companion” who was old enough to purchase a gun on his behalf. He said there is “an abundance of ways” for teens to get guns.
“Most of us, we know somebody that knows somebody,” he said. With the right amount of money, he said “it’s easy” to find a weapon in 30 minutes or less.
“You never know who could see you before you could see them,” he said. “Somebody else could be looking to have a bad day. You could be looking to have a good day, and that bad day just happens to find you. It’s scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
He said he would want other kids to understand, however, that acting off of emotion or impulse can change one’s life drastically: “Use your mind instead of your heart.”
“Karma is full circle,” he said. “Your actions always have a consequence, whether they’re good or bad.”
Shooter’s mother talks gun violence
“As parents, you try to put so many things in place to keep them distracted, to keep them too busy to be involved in certain situations, but then there’s society,” Shaw’s mother, Shana Shaw, said.
She explained that she signed her son up for football, after-school programs and taekwondo, but “he still found a way to be involved in these extracurricular activities that didn’t serve him.”
She said she believes peer pressure also influenced her son.
“The geeks don’t get the glory. The gang members do,” she said. “If you want to be in society and fit in, there’s an image, there’s a persona, there’s a personality that you have to take on in order to be considered, and it doesn’t look like your glasses and a bowtie.”
Shaw said she believes some of the recent youth violence can be attributed to lockdowns during the pandemic.
“They were caged animals. Now they’re coming out and being thrown right back into these socially awkward places called school and community. They’re enraged because they have been locked up with abusers, with whatever the situation is that they’ve been at home with, where school was their only escape, and now they’re out and they’re angry. They’re afraid, and we have not modeled effective conflict resolution as adults,” she said.
She told the Problem Solvers that fixing the youth gun violence issue starts with adults.
“We have to take accountability because we have created this society that makes our kids feel unsafe,” she said. “We have to look inward and even our interaction. What do we model in behavior? And what is the message that we send to our children that makes them not feel safe?”
Shaw now runs a non-profit, Compound of Compassion, an organization she created to help provide resources, wrap-around services and hope for community members who have experienced tough times.
“We service our veterans. We service our elderly community. We service our houseless neighbors and then our youth-led services are ran and operated and created by youth,” she said.
Shaw said her idea developed from her own life as a domestic violence survivor without specific support services. She said she wishes she had been exposed to mentorship, guidance and adults who spoke about their experiences escaping trauma as she was growing up.
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