More Guns Coming to School; Wrong Way to Keep Kids Safe

Oklahoma has made it legal for teachers and administrators to carry guns at school.

This year, at least one school district in my home state is allowing some staff members who have concealed-carry permits to bring their guns inside classrooms.

This new school gun policy was made possible when Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill in May loosening gun restrictions.

Other states are considering legislation to do the same thing. It’s happening at the college level, too. In 2014, Idaho became the first state to allow open carry on its campuses. This happened in the face of strong opposition from the state’s board of education, chief of police and every president of the state’s public universities.

Groups like Moms Demand Action have fought against these proposals and have won in a number of states, but powerful gun lobbies continue to promote guns in schools, and legislators are obviously listening.

Maybe some people feel like this is a logical step in keeping kids safe. School shootings are shocking and we want to do everything we can to stop them.

But the facts of gun violence call for a more carefully-reasoned, comprehensive response focused on prevention.

Where Guns in Schools Come From

From December 2012 to December 2014, there were 94 school shootings of various types, according to the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Two-thirds of those guns were brought from home.

Here are some other key facts about guns and young people from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

  • 7 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns.
  • 76 percent of children ages 5-14 know where firearms are kept in their homes.
  • 39 percent of parents who say their kids don’t know where guns are located, were contradicted by their kids.
  • 68 percent of school shooters get their weapon from home or a relative’s home.
  • 80 percent of unintentional firearm deaths involving kids under 15 happen at home.
  • One in 20 high school students reported carrying a weapon in the past 30 days.

We ought to be focusing on gun sense and safety, rather than arming school staff when most of the time it’s the children who bring guns to schools.

Do we want to keep children safe or possibly shoot them?

Safety at Home

Guns at home are a serious matter. Terrible accidents happen when children get their hands on guns. These are the most prevalent yet the most preventable gun tragedies.

Furthermore, the Youth Suicide Prevention Program reports that firearms are the number one way young people die by suicide, and most of those under 18 who used a gun to kill themselves got it from a family member.

American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the absence of guns from homes is the biggest way to prevent gun injuries or deaths. Second, of course, is safe gun storage where guns are unloaded, locked away, and ammunition is separately locked away.

Attention to Mental Health Issues

Another important response to gun violence should be attention to mental health needs. Law enforcement organizations have found common ground on this issue, as well as universal background checks, including accessing information about buyers’ mental health histories.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human services reports that young adults between the ages of 18-25 have the highest rate of mental illness. That’s enough of a reason to keep guns off campuses, in my view. Furthermore, about 1,100 of our children commit suicide annually. Eighty-five percent of suicide attempts are lethal when a gun is involved.

Keeping Guns Out of the Wrong Hands

After the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut at the end of 2012, President Obama created a task force to figure out how to respond as a nation to gun violence.

Headed by Vice President Biden, that group took only a few weeks to come up with a list of necessary actions. On that list were universal background checks for all gun sales and improving mental health services. A bipartisan bill was offered in the Senate to make these important gun safety improvements. It was called the “Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act.”

“Background checks work,” stated the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the time. “Keeping firearms out of the hands of prohibited purchasers is a key factor in reducing gun violence in our communities and protecting our officers.”

Even with the momentum after Newtown, the U.S. Senate failed to pass this bill. At the time of that vote, various polls showed 90 percent of the public favored expanding universal background checks.

Now, the action is on the state level, as evidenced by the Oklahoma law change.

A federal law designating schools as “gun-free zones” passed in the early 1990s and school-related homicides decreased as a result. The Gun Free School Zones Act, however, does not apply to persons who have a license to carry concealed firearms and they are kept in certain places.

So, this seems to be where the focus is: loosening restrictions on where concealed guns can be carried.

 A Teacher’s View of Guns in Schools

In a February 2015 story on National Public Radio, a Colorado teacher – where there is a strong push for gun owners’ rights to carry guns on school property – expressed concern about arming teachers.

She said, “I think that’s a really short-sighted, reactive solution. I feel like we need to be looking at a different conversation. And that conversation is, how do we prevent violence from even entering that school.”

The teacher, Katie Lyles, who was a sophomore at Columbine High School in 1999, added, “People don’t really understand the logistics of being in a school. If I had a gun, kids are around me all the time. They’re giving me hugs. So where do I keep the gun?” She questioned about getting to a gun in time and even if she did, could she trust herself to use it.

“Kids and guns don’t mix. And schools have kids, so therefore schools and guns don’t mix.”

I agree with Ms. Lyles. We need to be having a different, more powerful, conversation.

It can start by facing this fact: U.S. children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from guns than their peers in other high-income countries.

So, what are we doing about this issue? We are arming teachers. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.

We have to face these facts and push our leaders to enact sensible polices and promote practices that really protect citizens, especially children.


About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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