Throughout my 30-year career, I have taught grades K-12 and I’ve seen how the conversation on how to keep our schools safe has changed. In 1999, when the Columbine students and teachers were murdered, those of us who go to work in schools every day were shocked. As teachers, we were horrified, afraid and began to wonder if we would be the next instructor to give up our lives to save our students. The thought of letting more guns into our schools never crossed our mind.
Then came the shooting at Sandy Hook school, a massacre that hit home for so many Americans, especially parents, teachers and students. For me, that’s when my fear became visceral. I cried for days after Sandy Hook. I drove to work every day with tears streaming down my face because I was afraid to be in a school. I kept my classroom door locked and closed all the time. I thought about how vulnerable my students and I were in my classroom, one of the closest to an entrance to the building. These are thoughts I shouldn’t have to have, but as a teacher in America today, it’s my reality.
What I know now is that the gun violence happening in our schools goes far beyond high-profile shootings that make headlines. In 2019 alone, there have been at least 43 instances of gunfire on or around school grounds, and with that, countless students, teachers and parents are affected. No matter how a gun finds its way into our schools, it always takes a toll on our community and makes our learning environments less safe. We need to do everything possible to give young people the best education possible. That’s why I support the legislation being considered this session that will prohibit people with concealed-carry permits from carrying hidden, loaded guns in our children’s schools.
The best way to keep our schools safe is by enacting common-sense measures that will keep guns out of our schools. Letting anyone with a concealed-carry permit in some of the most sensitive places in Rhode Island does not make schools safer. In fact, it does the opposite. No one outside of law enforcement or highly trained security officers should be allowed anywhere near a school with a firearm of any kind. Law enforcement officers have the expertise and training to handle guns when they get into our schools and we should respect their experience. Allowing more hidden, loaded weapons into our schools could open a door to so many horrifying outcomes.
A common argument I’ve heard from those who support allowing loaded, concealed weapons in our schools is that it will add more protection, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s been reported that armed civilians have even endangered law enforcement, delayed their responses, and posed a risk to innocent bystanders during active shooter crises. What’s more, the FBI found that in 250 active shooter incidents, there were only seven successful armed civilian interventions. In contrast, unarmed civilians successfully intervened in 22 incidents. It’s utterly false that someone who has a concealed carry permit would be able to protect our children from an active shooter.
Allowing guns into a school adds the risk of unintentional or intentional shooting – something no one wants to see. Research shows access to a gun increases the risk of homicide by two times and the risk of firearm suicide by three times. There is a reason why firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens.
It’s a sad truth, but gun violence in our schools is a reality in America. That said, teachers and students should not have to go about their daily business in fear for their lives. H 5762 and S 636 would do more to keep our students, teachers and community safe by closing a gap in current law that allows more hidden, loaded guns into the schools where our children learn and play. I urge legislators to do the right thing and pass H 5762 and S 636, which will help make our schools the safe communities of learning and growing that they should be.
The author is a teacher and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She lives in Central Falls.