We know what must be done to stop young people from killing one another
Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has entered the American lexicon for the same tragic reason that Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and so many other places are names imprinted on this nation’s conscience. In what has become an all-too-familiar pattern, a troubled young man who experienced a difficult childhood took out his anger on innocent children and teachers in a senseless and preventable school shooting. These tragedies have a common thread: bullying, alienation, lack of support at home, missed warning signs, and a lack of access to quality mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Add in the easy access to guns — weapons essentially designed for war — and you have a toxic recipe for extraordinary acts of violence in our schools. Please tell me why an 18-year-old, or anyone for that matter, is able to easily purchase an AR-15?
Auto accidents were the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. for decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that guns have surpassed auto accidents as the leading cause of death for kids in the U.S. This includes tragic school shootings such as the one in Uvalde, and even more commonly, the children who are killed every day across the country. Think about that: The leading cause of death for kids in this country isn’t car crashes, it’s being shot. How can we not act to protect our most vulnerable, our children?
It’s immoral, unethical and largely preventable. No child should cower under a desk, their last view that of a gunman’s legs. No teacher’s job description should include shielding children with their bodies from a hail of bullets. No community should have to create “safe passages” so children can get to school safely. No parent should have to stare into a closet and pick out an outfit to bury their child in because the child was killed by gunfire.
So, how do we stop it? Putting police in schools, arming teachers — we know these proposals, popular with some, do not make our kids safer. In the most recent shooting in Texas, even with a school police officer on site, and even when lots of heavily armed, trained police officers with bulletproof armor arrived, they failed to protect the children. Please tell me why we expect a teacher armed with a gun to stop somebody with a semiautomatic weapon.
There is also simply no evidence that having school police makes our schools safer. In fact, there is evidence to show there may be significant negative consequences from having police in schools, including having more children removed from school and referred to the justice system, feeding what is referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” We know these negative outcomes disproportionately affect youths of color, making this a racial justice issue as well.
If we are going to make our schools and communities safer for our children, we must make it significantly harder to acquire firearms, especially semiautomatic weapons designed to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible. Such weapons should be banned, or at a minimum there should be universal background checks and requirements for secure storage, as is currently proposed in Congress.
In addition, putting time, money and resources into schools, communities, mental health supports and services for youths and families — these are the things that help, these are the investments society needs to actually make children safer. These are the types of commitments, and the daily hard work, that must be done if we are to be a country that truly values our children’s lives. But none of them can keep our children safe when gun manufacturers advertise their weapons to young people and state laws allow someone to simply walk in and buy a civilian version of a military-grade weapon without a background check.
In Uvalde, as in many other communities across America, 19 families are trying to imagine how their lives will go on. We failed our kids when we didn’t act after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, and after Parkland, where a death penalty trial is unfolding for the accused gunman. In 2019, nine children and teens were killed with guns each day in America — one every 2 hours, 36 minutes, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. We know what must be done to reduce the likelihood of more of these tragedies, and it’s past time for us to show the political will to stop this madness.
Marc Schindler is executive director of the Justice Policy Institute and former interim director of Washington, D.C.’s, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.