7 things Congress can do to make schools safer in 2020

7 things Congress can do to make schools safer in 2020
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This week marks seven years since my sweet 7-year-old son, Daniel, was murdered in his first-grade classroom, along with 19 other classmates and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how his death — and that of hundreds of other students since then — could have been prevented. 

While we as a nation continue to fight about how to keep our schools safe, the rates of school shootings continue to escalate. Many of America's kids are now living in fear, as we prepare them for seemingly “inevitable” violence.  

But gun violence is not inevitable; it is preventable. 

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Here are seven steps that our elected officials in Washington can take to protect our kids in 2020 and beyond. 

  1. Pass universal background checks (S. 42/H.R. 8). More Americans support this bipartisan legislation than any other currently in discussion. Taking this critical step forward in preventing gun violence is long overdue.

  2. Pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) bill to help implement ERPOs in all 50 states (S. 506/H.R. 1236). Studies in states with existing ERPOs have shown that these laws work in preventing suicides and premeditated shootings. Recent research found that for every 10 to 20 Extreme Risk Protection Orders filed, at least one life is saved. 

  3. Pass the STANDUP Act (S. 2492/ HR.R 2599). Suicide rates among teens and young adults is at its highest since 1960. Teaching kids and administrative teams to take threats and warning signs seriously is crucial to prevention.

  4. Pass robust funding for the STOP School Violence Act. The Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center analysis of every school shooting between 2008 and 2017 revealed that each was preventable. The key recommendations to “know the signs” of potential violence and “say something” when seeing these signs are exactly what the STOP School Violence Act funds.
  5. Reauthorize the Excellence in Mental Health Act. Community clinics fill needed gaps in behavioral health services for our schools and communities, including crisis mental health services, screening and assessment, and peer and family support. The Excellence Act expands access to low and no-cost behavioral health to those who need it most.

  6. Meet with local students and SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) Promise Clubs to hear about what school safety means to them. Students are the eyes and ears of their schools. Talk to them about how lockdown drills and metal detectors actually make them feel, and what programs, services and support will truly make them feel safer. 

  7. Bring the no-cost, evidence-based Know the Signs violence prevention programs to your state and/or school districts. Nearly every mass and suicidal shooter makes some form of threat or exhibits some type of warning sign before a tragedy occurs. When we teach students and educators to look for and report these signs, we can prevent school shootings and save lives.

Over the past seven years, I have sat with many lawmakers in their offices in Washington, D.C. Republican and Democrat alike, I know we all agree that protecting our kids is our collective responsibility. We can reverse the alarming trends of school violence. And with the support of Congress, we can start by teaching more kids and educators to know the signs and say something.

Mark Barden is co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and the father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012. Follow on Twitter @SandyHook.