The right to be safe in school

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On January 22, A 16-year-old male student opened fire in the cafeteria at Italy High School in Italy, Texas, hitting a 15-year-old girl in the neck and abdomen. He was taking aim at a second student when he was confronted by school staff and captured.

On January 23, 15-year-old Gabriel Ross Parker opened fire on students at Marshall County High School, in Benton, Kentucky. He shot 16 people, killing two 15-year-olds, Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope. Parker is currently facing charges as an adult with two counts of murder and 14 counts of first degree assault.

Those are the two most deadly incidents to happen in this very young year before the February 14 murder of 17 people at a Parkland Florida High School by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a mass murder that has finally seemed to challenge our nation’s ever more embarrassing record of loose gun laws and catastrophic homicide.

The status quo has long been untenable. There are more than 10,000 gun homicides in this country every year. While many try to explain this gruesome annual tally with declining social mores, rampant mental health issues and violent media consumption, those reasons don’t hold up to scrutiny. The United States is not remarkable for any of those factors. What is remarkable is the number of guns we’ve dumped into the population. With more guns than people in the country, it should come as no surprise that we lead the developed countries in homicide.

For a generation, we’ve argued about this fact as if it’s another partisan difference of opinion. But there isn’t really an opinion here. We have a gun problem. And now, this new rash of mass shootings has forced our country to confront the fact that the gun problem has gone beyond the restraints of every day, urban gun crime and come home to roost in the suburbs where our schools, churches and other public spaces are potential sites of mass murder.

Gun rights advocates will argue that regulations will only harm law-abiding gun owners and that bad guys will be the only ones left with guns. But our mass shooters are not buying guns on the black market. They’re purchasing them from gun dealers. Cruz was a legal gun owner until he fired his weapon at other kids.

As skeptical as I am that Parkland will change things – it’s hard not to have some faith in the remarkable teenage advocates who’ve courageously emerged in the wake of this tragedy. And what’s more, what they’ve managed to do reframe this issue as a civil right: “Don’t we have the right to go to school and not expect to be gunned down in our classrooms?”

The answer to this question requires a far more serious solution than the insulting and asinine proposal to arm our teachers. The simple fact is that our current laws are not promoting responsible gun ownership. We’re dumping guns into the public and getting exactly what we should expect as a consequence.

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