As I was watching the news several nights ago, I saw the story of a toddler walking on a deck with his dad’s firearm. This child was treating the gun as a toy. I think most who saw it were as appalled as I was. We may think that it was an isolated incident. However just a few weeks ago we learned of another tragic story where a 6-year-old brought a loaded handgun to school in Newport News, Virginia. When he had an altercation with his teacher, he shot her and she had to be hospitalized. Fortunately, she was in stable condition soon thereafter.
An incident like this leads to many questions. Law enforcement hardly knows what to do with a 6-year-old who shoots his teacher. The school staff is thrown into fear and insecurity about safety and what can be done to prevent such an incident. Parents were in the next school board meeting criticizing district officials for their tolerance and lack of discipline for the students. The school officials are seeking to create a resonant and safe environment for students so that they will want to be in school. The students are filled with fear. The community and media are asking questions about gun access for children and what responsibility the parents bear for leaving guns that are available to young children. The debates and discussions will be ongoing for some time.
The hard reality is that access to unsecured guns is becoming an increasing public health problem. Guns are the leading cause of deaths among children and teenagers in America. According to Sandy Hook Promise, 12 kids die each day from gun violence. Approximately 32 more are injured by guns per day. There have been 60 school shootings in K-6 schools in 2022. As it reels from this tragedy, this one Virginia community has turned upside down. This is replicated in every one of these incidents in schools, families and communities throughout our country.
This surfaces the gun debate that is very divisive but one thing we know is that children are dying and are gaining access to guns from varied sources, including their own homes. As we encounter a significant mental health crisis with our kids, gun access can become a greater danger than we have ever seen in our country. If parents feel that they want to have a gun or guns in their homes, they need to make them inaccessible to their children or anyone else for their protection.
For all of us who are providing education to students, we need to be vigilant about this issue. I believe that we need school environments where there is clarity about prevention, protection and safety all while building strong relationships with students. We are in an environment where this is a significant part of keeping our schools safe. We all need to be involved whether we are school staff, police, mental health professionals, parents or other community leaders.
This is too significant an issue for us to be divided and risk the safety of our children. As complicated as this is we must strategize and work together to help our kids recognize the consequences of gun violence and be equally vigilant about preventing it from being a possibility in our schools.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO