School Climate & Safety Opinion

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: Children, Schools, Guns, Laws, & Leaders

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 18, 2018 5 min read
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More children’s lives lost, and teachers’, too, cut short in a school shooting this week. More lives forever changed. And, again, indelible images created in our minds. We believed tah tone of these tragedies would make a difference. It should have been Columbine or Sandy Hook. But, no, we are again watching children and families and teachers and leaders and law enforcement deal with the unspeakable.

How Does The NRA Control This Decision?

Can it be true that the gun lobby, the NRA, is that fully in control of our legislators and leaders? Can it be that the members of these groups are not moved to consider the responsibility that comes with rights and that no right is unlimited? Can selfish interest determine policy for all of us? We acknowledge that this isn’t just a “gun issue”. It certainly demonstrates the condition of mental health treatment options and delivery systems as well. At this intersection of unaddressed mental health issues and assault weapons available to those who shouldn’t have them, tragedy happens....way too often. Everyone in schools knows children who might be falling through the cracks of the education, the health care, the law enforcement and the family systems.

Feeling Sadness, Not Anger

Being angry helps us avoid the profound sadness and deters us from simply getting numb or sliding into despair. We are sad that a child who was adopted and likely had a mental health issue became a school misfit, a loner, one to be avoided. No one ought to be surprised that his mind turned to violence and to aggression. In November, his adoptive mother died. Of course, that was a trigger but he was 19 and no intervention system was following him.

Looking into the eyes of Broward County’s superintendent of schools, Robert Runcie when he was asked what the plan for was for reopening just hours after the shooting, we thought about a recent blog we wrote. We thought about walking in his shoes, compelled by loss and grief and shock and shored up to fill the responsibility of leadership he accepted. He answered.

Our society is being redefined. The norms with which we grew up no longer work. What it will be....who we will be...is still unclear. Anyone in education knows social and policy change takes place slowly. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now Parkland, Florida; what has changed? We have readiness drills and plans and training. It made a difference in Parkland. We can lock doors, put metal detectors at every entrance, pay better attention to and report what we consider warning behaviors in others. We might be able to arm those in schools more easily than have a sensible limitation on access to assault weapons.

CNBC reported:

Proponents of gun control have long argued that such rifles have no use in hunting and are unnecessarily powerful as home defense weapons.

“An AR-15 is not for hunting, it’s for killing,” Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson in an interview on Thursday morning on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”

But rifle makers strongly dispute that claim.

“It’s how people use it,” said Kit Cope, marketing director at Spike’s Tactical, a Florida-based gun manufacturer. “It’s also a great hunting weapon, home defense weapon and a great sporting rifle.”

A long way of saying, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Well, let’s look at Australia. ScienceAlert reported on a study.

The study found there have been no fatal mass shootings since April 1996 - despite experiencing one every two to three years in the decades leading up to the changes. There’s also been an overall drop in the number of people killed by guns.

Here are some of the key findings from the study:

    • Between 1979 and 1996, total firearm deaths in Australia were dropping an average of 3 percent each year. In the 20 years since, they’ve declined at a rate of 5 percent annually.

    • There was also an acceleration in the decline of both gun-related suicides and homicides following the new laws.
    • The researchers also looked at the rates of all causes of suicide and homicide, to get a feeling for whether people were simply substituting guns for other violent methods. But that wasn’t the case.

To our minds, the right to buy and own guns, just like drivers’ licenses and the drinking age, need to be founded in common sense.

Sheriff Scott Israel said,

If a person is predisposed to commit such a horrific event ... if a person is committed to committing great carnage ... there’s not a lot law enforcement can do about it. We have to be able to mitigate, we have to be able to respond quickly.

Any of us who have lived through or know educators who have lived through a violent school event knows that Sheriff Israel is absolutely right. Metal detectors can be deterrents but a predisposed committed people who are focused on creating carnage are going to get past whatever physical barriers we place in their way.

Voices From Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Educators need to know how to prepare for shooting events, just as the police and first responders do. How doors are locked and whether there are guards and metal detectors may be local decisions but who would have expected a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? If educators are to protect the children in their charge, and can take responsibility for them, educators’ voices need to be heard. We know where we are vulnerable and where we have to make changes, In concert with our efforts, we need more rigorous background checks, not state by state, but on a national level. We know the students who are troubled. We know the students who are bullies or bullied. We know the work we need to do inside of schools. We also know there is a crying need for mental health services and options especially for troubled, young people. So, we join the voices of so many of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have been speaking out since Wednesday. Let this be the tragedy that makes the difference. Please, leaders take action. Begin somewhere. Save our children and our future. Because if we move aside the veils of the news this week, there is hope to be found in the voices of those students. Adults need to listen.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by geralt courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.