I was incredibly inspired by the (March 24) March for Our Lives, and I was proud to support the students who marched here in Albuquerque. While this event and debates around gun violence have been politically charged since the terrible massacre in Parkland, (that) Saturday’s marches were a sharp reminder that an entire generation has grown up practicing active shooter drills, fearful of when tragedy might strike their own school. These students are afraid – yet empowered – and it is past time we create comprehensive strategies to keep our schools safe.
What can we do to prevent gun violence and tragedy from impacting future lives? One answer is to actually listen to the students and focus on what they’re saying will make them feel more secure. As Albuquerque march organizers so eloquently declared: “Safety to us looks like prevention, intervention, and support services.” So, let’s start there.
When reviewing plans put forth by elected officials and candidates, I find they are often limited in scope and do not adequately address those three critical elements – prevention, intervention and support services. Physical security, such as metal detectors or armed resource officers, may make schools look more secure, but they don’t address what happens before an armed gunman arrives. Gun legislation, including universal background checks and bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks may restrict access and limit potential carnage, but it, too, fails to deal with what’s happening with the individual.
That’s why, as important as physical security measures and gun legislation might be, we must also shift the culture of our schools to prevent students from reaching a psychological or emotional point where they view gun violence as an answer in the first place. This is fundamental to keeping our students safe.
Schools must be appropriately funded to promote environments free of bullying, harassment, discrimination and assault. We must expand mental health services and ensure there is adequate staffing in schools to provide care for those who need it most. Likewise, we must reform school discipline to avoid ostracizing troubled students through exclusionary practices. Instead, we want them to remain engaged in the school and their community through positive emotional, behavioral and academic success plans.
Next, we need to strengthen bonds (among) law enforcement, mental health care professionals and school leaders, allowing them to better work together to identify threats and intervene when necessary. More practically, this means reforming legal barriers that prevent information sharing when a threat is made. And we need time-limited restraining orders allowing local law enforcement to intervene and remove firearms from an individual who has threatened violence against themselves or their community.
Finally, we must conduct scientific research to confront this public health crisis. To that end, Congress must repeal the Dickey Amendment and allow gun violence research at the CDC. (The recently enacted) spending bill included language to allow for research to be conducted – a positive development – but it lacked federal funding to actually do it. We can find evidence-based ways to reduce gun violence that respect Second Amendment rights, but we cannot do it without congressional resources.
This is a complex problem, and the fix will not be quick or easy. The good news is most Americans are listening: With 97 percent voicing public support of universal background checks and 67 percent supporting an assault weapon ban, the voices of our students are getting through. Now will our elected officials listen up or let them down again?