Students can’t learn, and teachers can’t teach, if they aren’t safe in their schools.
School district superintendents, boards of education and heads of school need to do more than lockdown drills and hardening schools to protect students, teachers and staff from the threat of gun violence. They need to address a root cause of school shootings: the irresponsible behavior of gun owners who don’t securely store their firearms.
We saw this play out yet again in Virginia, where a mom’s irresponsible behavior led to her 6-year-old son shooting his first grade teacher. The shooting at Richneck Elementary School was not an isolated incident: two-thirds of school shooters obtain the gun they used from their home or the home of a relative.
Schools have a vital interest in keeping students and educators safe. As credible messengers, school superintendents and other school officials should use their authority and direct lines of communication to parents to educate them about the urgency of safe firearm storage and safe storage laws, and the legal consequences of not securing their firearms.
A letter to parents from the Superintendent of the New Rochelle, NY School District is a model all school districts should follow; it reviews statistics about the prevalence of lax gun storage, state regulations for safe storage and resources parents can use to educate themselves (whether or not they are gun owners).
Each year, hundreds of thousands of students around the nation are terrorized by threats of violence in school, leading to lockdowns, school closures and widespread student absences.
Not long after the 2021 Oxford High School shooting in Michigan, a “National Shoot Up Your School Day” challenge was posted on Tik Tok. Although investigations determined an absence of credible threats, the damage to students’ and educators’ emotional well-being and disruptions to learning is a national disgrace.
Every threat is potentially another Sandy Hook, Columbine or Parkland. Regardless of whether the threat turns out to be real, the damage is done.
Far too many gun owners are creating dangerous conditions that put their children, their children’s friends and their children’s classmates and teachers at grave risk. This irresponsible behavior is pervasive:
- Some 1 million students ages 12 to 18 report having access to a loaded gun without adult permission.
- Nationwide, four in 10 parents incorrectly believe their children don’t know where their guns are kept, and one in five are contradicted by their children who said they handled their parents’ guns without the parent knowing.
- Nearly 5 million children live in homes with an unlocked, loaded firearm.
- Less than one-third of gun owners with children in the home store all of their guns unloaded and locked.
Responses from school administrators asserting that “nothing is more important than the safety and security of our students and staff” need to be backed up with action. Communicating to parents about gun owners’ legal and moral obligation to securely store their firearms is a tangible step towards fulfilling their commitment to safety. It can’t happen soon enough.
If you would like to see more guns locked up and fewer lockdowns, add your name to the CT Against Gun Violence petition calling on school officials to communicate to parents about securing their firearms.
Jonathan Perloe is Director of Communications for CT Against Gun Violence