Encourage Secretary DeVos to Recommend Connecticut-Style Gun Laws

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Dear Madam Secretary, 

You have recently been asked by President Trump to lead a task force to study violence in America's schools and to make recommendations about how to reduce gun violence in our schools. We write as concerned educators from every sector of America's educational system to share a recommendation for you in this work. 

St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Too often, we lose hope after tragic events like the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., precisely because we fail to translate our anger into the courage necessary to make change. 

But we educators are heartened and hope-filled as we witness the furious courage of the Parkland teenage survivors. Their #NeverAgain campaign channels their anger, lends us courage, and catalyzes our collective hope.

We are leaders of schools, school networks, education foundations, policy organizations, non-profit ventures, curriculum publishers, and parent engagement organizations. We run pre-schools, primary schools, high schools, and universities. We prepare teachers and principals and early childhood educators; we are national policy experts, scholarship providers, and superintendents. We operate public school districts, charter schools, and Catholic schools, from the west coast to the east coast, in the deep south, and in our nation’s heartland.

We want our nation’s leaders to know that we have lost patience with their inaction. But we got into this work because we believe in the next generation. And the response of the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed our faith in our nation. While we stand embarrassed that our children have to call us out from the funerals of their classmates, we must not stand idle, hanging our heads in shame. We must step up in hope, joining them to ensure that these initial steps are not the last.

Since April 20, 1999, the day of the mass school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, there have been shootings at 170 schools in the United States of America. In that time, nearly 150,000 children have been at school in this nation when an active shooter has fired a gun, according to a Washington Post analysis. Six school shootings with injuries or deaths have happened in this year alone. 

“We’re the children. You guys are the adults...Get something done," Parkland survivor David Hogg demanded on CNN one day after the shooting. Emma Gonzalez, another surviving senior who spoke at a gun-control rally days after the shooting, rejected the “it is what it is” mentality that too-frequently follows school shootings. “If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead,” she said.

These two students are not alone. There are 3,300 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and 270,000 in the Broward County District--and they are all channeling their anger, courage, and hope into action. They are meeting with elected officials, traveling to Florida's State Capitol in Tallahassee, going to Washington, and confronting the NRA. You, Madam Secretary, have met with many of them yourself. And their actions have already won important changes from retail giants like Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods, who are changing the way they do business in response to these brave young people who have discovered their voices.

We have a moral responsibility to move beyond prayers, thoughts and sympathy to real action.  Our children deserve nothing less. As educational leaders, we should be the first to join these students in rejecting the “it is what it is” mindset Emma decries. If we do not join them, we essentially tell our children, “It is too hard, so we do not try.”

Good teachers know that we can do hard things. We do hard things by taking one step at a time, determining the most effective solutions to thorny problems. Our children deserve nothing less.

As the Secretary of Education, you know that gun violence in schools is not merely about mass shootings. Guns infect our schools in far more frequent and insidious ways. Every day, children in high-crime communities enter our classrooms traumatized by gun violence and tragic loss. This hampers their learning and engagement in school. Educators confiscate guns in schools all too regularly. Many of us only glimpse the trauma of gun violence when mass shootings occur. But the seldom-discussed invisible impact is that thousands of our children experience gun violence daily in urban, suburban and rural America. 

Tragedies like the Parkland shooting are just the most visible and disturbing illustration of the problem, and so have the greatest capacity to shake us out of our stupor, to marshal our anger, and turn it to courage for change.  

Secretary DeVos, we believe that together, we can do hard things. And this can begin with you recommending a set of steps that are known to work: the package of reforms passed in Connecticut in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. These sensible gun laws (summarized at www.cagv.org have reduced gun deaths in Connecticut across the board, even gun deaths by suicide. By banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition cartridges, creating permits to carry firearms that require the approval of the town’s chief of police, and introducing Red Flag Laws, methods for law enforcement to remove guns from those who present an imminent risk, Connecticut lawmakers made their cities and homes safer - as well as their schools. Since the Parkland shooting, states such as New Jersey are revisiting legislation to implement similar laws. 

We join the survivors of Parkland - and every other senseless shooting - in insisting that students never hear shots fired in schools again. We who sign this petition join them and ask all other educators to get behind them as well. Teachers, school leaders, district leaders, foundation presidents, college and university presidents - all who care about our nation’s children: please sign this petition, asking Secretary DeVos to explore and recommend Connecticut-style gun laws as part of the school violence commission she leads. 

Let’s be grown-ups. Our brave students lives depend on it. #NeverAgain.


A version of this piece was originally published in EDWeek on March 1, 2018 and signed by the Fall 2017 cohort of Pahara Aspen Education Fellows. (https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/03/01/we-must-not-stand-idle-a-call.html