With gun violence, schools are not ‘the problem’

This has been a horrific month. On May 14, a white supremacist walked into a supermarket in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo and murdered 10 people. Then, on Monday, a shooter entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and massacred 19 young children and two teachers.

Both shooters were 18-year-olds who were able to legally buy AR-15 style semiautomatic rifles. They weren’t even close to being old enough to buy alcohol, but they could buy deadly weapons meant for use by the military, along with lots of ammunition, no questions asked.

It’s no wonder the United States is an outlier when it comes to gun violence. We have had over 2,000 school shootings since 1970, according to Sandy Hook Promise. And as horrifying as they are, school shootings are the tip of the iceberg. Guns are now the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens.

Gun defenders blame mental illness, video games or “evil,” and bleat, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But other countries have people; they also have mental illness, video games and evil. What we have that they don’t: a hell of a lot more guns.

The slaughter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde has reignited the difficult debate about how to keep children safe in school. Worried parents are calling for “hardening” schools with armed school resource officers, metal detectors and other measures to beef up security. That’s understandable.

There’s little research evidence, however, that these efforts will reduce school shootings. And there’s a real downside to making schools more like prisons, especially for students of color.

We’re also seeing legitimate questions about whether police responded effectively in Uvalde. I’m all for holding police accountable, but if our plan for keeping kids safe relies on police being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing, we’re in trouble. People make mistakes.

What can we do? Focus on the problem:

  • Implement universal background checks and waiting periods for buying guns.
  • Restrict the sale of assault-style weapons and large quantities of ammunition.
  • Require safe gun storage and hold gun owners accountable for their weapons.
  • Pass stronger red-flag laws and enforce them.

And, returning to the fact that the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters were just 18, this one is obvious: Require people to be 21 to buy guns, possibly with controlled exceptions. (Regarding red-flag laws, an 18-year-old trying to buy an AR-15 should be a red flag).

These measures wouldn’t prevent all mass shootings or school shootings, but they would reduce them.

In Indiana, a good place to start would be by reversing the “constitutional carry” law that legislators enacted this year. Passed over the objections of law enforcement officials – including Gov. Eric Holcomb’s state police chief — it allows most Hoosiers to carry a handgun without a permit.

But Holcomb, who signed the bill into law, refused to retreat when questioned after the two recent shootings. He said Indiana would not “restrict individuals who lawfully can purchase a gun, for sport or defense for themselves.” (He didn’t say if the Buffalo and Uvalde killings were sport or self-defense).

Holcomb also doubled down on “hardening” schools, pointing out that Indiana has provided schools $110 million for hiring cops, buying hand-held metal detectors and other security measures. He said focusing on anything other than securing schools would be “taking our eye off the problem.”

Governor, with all due respect, schools are not the problem. Guns are the problem. Politicians who refuse to do anything about them are the problem.

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