Adam Garber is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun violence prevention organization.
This month, 1.7 million Pennsylvania kids are heading back to school, and parents are experiencing all of the apprehension and excitement that comes with the new school year.
But on top of that looms the unspoken question: will the kids come home at the end of the day, or will they be shot and end up in the hospital — or worse?
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and one we’ve seen play out time and time again, with at least 21 school-related shootings since 2015 in Pennsylvania alone. This terror touches every type of school community, from rural Butler, to suburban Sharon Hill and Carlisle, to urban Pittsburgh, Erie, and Philadelphia.
Even if your child’s school isn’t directly impacted by a shooting, how many of us have had to comfort our kid when they got home traumatized after an active shooter drill where they are taught how to barricade themselves in the classroom instead of how to read?
We shouldn’t have to live this way. And we don’t.
The good news is that we know exactly how to keep our kids safe at school. It’s not by arming teachers, or buying bulletproof backpacks, or making schools feel like prisons by forcing students to go through metal detectors or wear transparent bookbags. No. None of this is keeping our kids safe.
What does work? Proactively stopping the gun from getting into the hands of a would-be school shooter.
Three policies in particular are shown to work but are missing in Pennsylvania:
- Almost all school shooters “leak” their plans ahead of time. This creates an opportunity to use an Extreme Risk Protection Order (often called a “red flag law”) to disarm them through a civil legal procedure overseen by a judge, with full due process protections.
- Long guns are now used in the majority of mass shootings. Yet in Pennsylvania, one can buy these firearms from a private seller without a background check. Universal background check legislation would close this loophole and prevent shooters from obtaining weapons of war.
- And finally, in 76% of mass school shootings, the firearm was obtained from the home of the student, a relative, or a friend. A safe storage law would help prevent these tragedies by requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons in the home when not in use.
All of these policies enjoy broad, bipartisan support from the majority of Pennsylvanians, including conservatives and gun owners.
The Pennsylvania House passed legislation with bipartisan support on both red flag laws and universal background checks, but those bills now stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Students should be able to learn. Teachers should be able to teach. And parents should have the peace of mind that safety will be the norm in Pennsylvania schools.
Let’s come together to take basic, life-saving action to make that vision a reality.
Go to CeaseFirePA.org to take action and contact your state lawmakers today.