My campaign recently hosted a panel about preventing school shootings in America. Since then, we’ve had another school shooting in Maryland and worldwide Marches for Our Lives protesting gun violence. Our panel included a police chief of a school district, school board members, teachers and legislators, but the panelist who stood out was Nathan, a Newton high school student.
Nathan worried there might come a day when his little brother might not return home safely from school. Nathan should be concerned with preparing for a test or finding a date for the next dance, not whether he or younger brother will be gunned down at school.
But this is the America in which we now live. Parents are equipping their children with Kevlar backpacks as if they're entering a war zone. Politicians want to arm teachers, coming up with funds for gun training but not increasing teacher pay or lowering class sizes. Schools may build “safe rooms” inside their classrooms.
This cannot be the America we want. And these actions don’t address the core issues causing school shootings. It should not be a foregone conclusion that this is the new normal.
The first step in solving any problem is truly understanding it. Since 1996, there has been a federal law preventing research into gun violence in the U.S. called the Dickey Amendment. This past week, under pressure by the public, Congress added language to their spending bill allowing the Centers for Disease Control to perform this much-needed research. However, GOP leadership is still refusing to repeal the amendment itself, and researchers are skeptical they will receive funding to move forward.
Why hasn’t this research been allowed? For 20 years, GOP leaders have been political cowards bought and paid for by powerful special interest groups like the National Rifle Association. These are the same politicians who smile broadly by staged boxes of support letters while not entertaining a discussion with gun violence victims. These are the politicians that run campaign ads showing themselves shooting semi-automatic weapons or auctioning off an AR-15 the week after students are gunned down by one.
The issue of school shootings is not entirely about guns, however. Assault rifles are the choice tool utilized but not the reason(s) some young men choose to commit horrendous acts. We must get to the heart of why these young men feel such rage toward their peers, teachers and society at large. Is it a bullying issue? Is it mental illness or personality disorders? Is it social isolation? We have theories, but don’t really know.
My recommendations include:
▪ Perform the research needed to understand both gun violence in our country and anger in our young men.
▪ Ensure background checks for all gun owners, including at trade shows.
▪ Increase gun safety training programs aimed at keeping parents’ guns secure from children.
▪ Ban assault weapons, like the AR-15, that are designed to kill many people in seconds.
▪ Avoid adding more guns to schools by asking teachers to become armed security guards.
▪ Invest in our teachers and lower classroom sizes, so students get the time and attention needed to succeed.
▪ Increase funding for school counselors and resources to identify and help high-risk youth.
What we simply cannot afford to do is nothing. Our children deserve our action. We deserve action.
Laura Lombard is a Democratic candidate in the 4th District Congressional race.