Since the tragedy at Columbine High School almost 20 years ago, school districts have implemented measures to protect students and staff from the threat of a mass shooting. Entrances have been hardened with “mantraps” and bullet resistant glass. “Active shooter” drills are now regularly conducted along with fire drills. New security staff have been hired and all staff are trained on best security practices.
Yet the brutal massacre in Parkland, Florida demonstrates that schools remain vulnerable and the threat is ongoing.In addition to Parkland, there have already been 13 shootings at schools and and colleges this year. Some argue that an appropriate response is to boost the number of security personnel allowed to carry guns. It has even been suggested that arming qualified teachers is the best way to protect against the next assault.
But before we start an arms race in our schools, it’s time to pause and start to consider actions that will actually help to improve things.
Let’s start by acknowledging that regardless of how carefully we secure our schools, we will never be doing all we can until our society puts responsible limits on access to deadly firearms. Common sense precautions that New Jersey and other states have established should become nationalized. These include instituting permits for handgun purchases, setting strict limits on magazines, and requiring licenses to own certain types of weapons. At minimum it must be mandated that all gun buyers be subject to appropriate background checks. Current estimates are that 30 percent of gun sales take place – including gun show purchases – without this essential precaution.
Yet all this is only a start. If we are truly serious about school safety, we need to demand that whole classes of firearms be taken off the marketplace. AR-15s and other assault rifles are the most notorious symbols of our country’s permissive attitude toward firearms access. But handguns with high capacity magazines exact an even greater toll on the innocent. A child is shot or killed by a gun every 30 minutes in the United States; over the past five decades a staggering 160,000 children have been lost to gun violence. In 2016, the American Journal of Medicine reported that that among two dozen of the world’s wealthiest nations, this country accounted for 91 percent of firearms deaths among children 14 and under.
Emotional claims that the right to possess lethal weapons is sacrosanct discredit the wisdom of the Constitution’s framers and ignore our own legal history. Despite outcries from extremists that access to guns is threatened, the United States remains a society awash in firearms. Americans make up about five percent of the Earth’s population but they own nearly 50 percent of the world’s gun supply. Until quite recently, the Supreme Court continually upheld the right of Congress and state legislatures to place substantial restrictions on access to firearms while respecting the Second Amendment. In practice this meant that Congress took sweeping action to ban weapons such as machine guns, assault weapons, and sawed-off shotguns while protecting the rights of responsible gun owners.
Young people from Parkland, Florida and other communities throughout the nation are forcing all of us to come to terms with this issue. This time we owe them more than platitudes, non-solutions, and nonsense. Ongoing improvements to school security are certainly necessary and we will continue to do our part. But if Americans really want to avoid another tragedy, we must deal with the root cause: the irresponsible and permissive access we allow to guns in our society.
Louis Moore, of Fair Haven, has been superintendent at Red Bank Regional High School since 2016.