By Teresa Welsh |
Sandy Hook Elementary School has been added to America's ghastly litany of school shootings. We cry. We pray. We grieve. Then we grieve even more, knowing that unless fundamental and decisive actions are taken in our society, we'll be grieving again for the victims of the next school shooting.
As educators whose colleagues have given their lives protecting students, we challenge America to confront the evil done by guns to our children and young people. We need focused efforts leading to deliberative action, not staggeringly misguided ideas about arming educators and a mind-boggling proposal to place armed guards at every school in the United States.
Our deepest instincts are to nurture and protect the children and young people in our charge. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, educators risked their lives putting themselves between the shooter and their students, just as they did at Columbine, Jonesboro, and other school shootings. We dream of day when every child is safe and every school is a sanctuary of learning. But if we continue to dream alone, it's only a dream. When we dream together, that is when a new reality begins.
"Take the first step in faith," Martin Luther King Jr. said. "You don't have to see the whole staircase."
In the wake of Sandy Hook, Americans seem ready to take that first step. A serious conversation has begun about meaningful action on gun control. Reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, banning high-capacity magazines, and instituting universal background checks are critical and commonsense gun control measures.
Consider this: Since 1979, when data was first collected, 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence in America. Imagine if a foreign power had inflicted such violence upon us. How would we have reacted? Would we have allowed our politicians to duck and cower? We can't allow this violence to go on. We can't turn away and think, well, that is just the way it is. We can, and must, find a better way to live in this country.
Yet as essential as commonsense gun control is, it will not suffice in a country awash in guns. We need to look at what can be done to prevent a deranged young man from picking up a gun in the first place. We need to improve availability and access to mental health services—no state or insurance company should be able to rely on escape clauses to deny what is basic healthcare coverage. We need to remove the stigma from seeking mental healthcare, a stigma that is common throughout society. There is also much we can do in our schools. We need to dramatically expand our focus on mental health. A huge shortage of school counselors and psychologists exists due to education budget cuts, and we need to reverse that trend.
The essence of democracy is self-government, and 119,079 dead children and young people calls into question our ability to govern ourselves. The best way, and perhaps the only way, to prove that we can make self-governance work again is by coming together—educators, parents, and all citizens of conscience—and doing whatever it takes and spending whatever it costs to protect our children.
Let's close ranks, heal the breach, and restore peace to our children's lives.
About Dennis Van Roekel President of the National Education Association
Erich Pratt Director of Communications for Gun Owners of America
Gene Hoffman Chairman of the Calguns Foundation.