Stein column: Our society is failing our children on gun violence
Ironically, my monthly article published in the Post Independent the other day was titled, “Are the kids all right?” Clearly, the answer is “no.”
Both I and the governor of Texas assume — though it’s too soon to know for sure — that one of the root causes of the rampage in Uvalde was mental health. No sane person would shoot 19 children and two teachers in their elementary school. But there is more than the mental state of the perpetrator at play, and more that a civil society can do to protect our children.
When news of the shooting broke, I wrote the standard letter to reassure our families that we are doing everything within our power to make our schools safe. But that isn’t completely true. We who care about children have failed to use our powers of persuasion to change the minds of our elected officials who insist on keeping children in harm’s way.
We have seen too many senseless deaths of children due to gun violence, including one recently in our own community. We need sensible gun regulation alongside the right to bear arms. My family started ranching in Colorado in 1876. My father got his first firearm for his 13th birthday and was a lifelong hunting and shooting enthusiast; he taught his kids to handle firearms, and that tradition carried on to his grandkids. So I know you don’t have to be a right-wing nut to advocate for gun rights, just as you don’t have to be a lefty liberal to advocate for responsible gun safety.
As I wrote in the Post Independent about sensible gun safety after the massacre at a school in Parkland, Florida, four years ago, we know how to keep our children safer. Places with fewer gun deaths to children provide sensible restrictions on access to firearms, like background checks and waiting periods.
- They keep guns out of the hands of more likely violent offenders, such as the mentally ill, and keep them out of the hands of children.
- They don’t flood their society with semi-automatic rifles and ammunition which, in the hands of a perpetrator, turn a violent outburst into armageddon.
- They don’t let young men legally buy AR-15s before they are legally considered mature enough to buy a beer.
- They penalize adults who let children play or do harm with guns.
- They don’t perpetrate false narratives that more guns make us safer, or that the only way to prevent mass shootings is to arm more people with guns.
- They don’t put guns on an altar as items of worship.
We will continue our measures to keep our schools safe: security vestibules, active shooter drills, staff training, anonymous tip lines, email monitoring, mental health services, social-emotional education, violence and suicide prevention and school resource officers, to name a few.
But let me be clear: Our schools are not equipped to withstand a military assault, nor to fend off an intruder wielding military weaponry. This week in Uvalde, trained and armed law enforcement officers confronted the shooter, but he was still able to enter the school and cause carnage.
I implore our elected officials to reconsider their positions and join in sensible solutions to gun violence — not only investments in mental health services but also in reasonable safety restrictions for firearms.
We provide resources for parents and teachers about talking to students about violence, but I empathize with adults having to talk to children this week. Along with reassuring them, I hope they will acknowledge that children live in a world we adults have created, amid choices that put children at unnecessary risk.
If our generation doesn’t have the wherewithal to create a better world for them, I hope they will do better when they inherit the mantle.
Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
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