The Advocate June 2022

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The Advocate June 2022

May ended on a deeply painful note because of the horrific gun violence in Buffalo and Uvalde. For AASA it meant a return to federal policy and politics focused on the prevention of gun violence and increased discussion about how we can keep our schools and students safe. Prior to Uvalde, there were 27 school shootings in 2022 and if these numbers continue it will be the deadliest year for students and educators on record.

As is unfortunately customary after these terrible acts of violence, Capitol Hill is once again turning its attention to what, if anything, can be done legislatively to reduce gun violence in schools. This month’s Advocate will explore whether this year can produce different outcomes that include any legislation AASA can support.

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, AASA has maintained a consistent position that comprehensive federal policy is required to prevent future school violence. This approach includes continued funding to ensure our districts are as safe as they should be coupled with commonsense gun safety legislation. Recent federal data indicates school districts have already taken significant steps over the past 10 years to harden and secure their buildings and deter school violence. Data from 2019 shows that two-thirds of schools reported having a school security or police officer present and that includes more than 80% of middle and high schools and a majority of elementary schools. Half of these schools have at least one officer armed with a gun. Furthermore, nearly all schools report maintaining controlled access to their building during school hours, using security cameras, planning for the possibility of an active shooter, and conducting lockdown drills. More than half say they have controlled access to school grounds, too.

Over the past decade, superintendents have taken aggressive steps to make school buildings and students safer through enormous local and state investments to improve school building security, build threat assessment systems and teams, invest in mental health personnel and programs, and provide professional development programming to identify potential school violence before it occurs.  In the meantime, we continue to wait on Congress to take steps to pass comprehensive legislation that would help ease the gun violence epidemic. As of June 1, it appears that lawmakers will attempt to include legislation that touches on background checks and red-flag laws as part of a broader mental health and school safety package. We are hopeful that this package comes to fruition and that the answer from Washington is not to simply ask schools to do more by themselves to protect students and educators. Specifically, we continue to ask Congress to move forward with legislation that would:

  • Increase law enforcement of existing gun laws
  • Reinstate the ban on the sale, import, transfer and ownership of assault weapons
  • Ban large-capacity magazines
  • Require thorough background checks for all gun purchasers
  • End the “gun-show” loophole
  • Prevent individuals convicted of violent crimes from being able to purchase guns
  • Prevent individuals with mental health issues from purchasing or owning a gun (18 U.S.C. 922 (g))
  • Punish irresponsible gun owners
  • Fund gun-violence prevention research
  • Build the pipeline of mental health personnel and sustainably fund their work in schools through Title IV of ESSA, Medicaid and new standalone funding streams

 As AASA’s Executive Director, Dan Domenech, stated on May 24th: The mass shooting in Uvalde “begs the very fair question, ‘Is school safety on America’s short list of priorities?’ If not, why not? How many more families have to face the reality of a student that doesn’t return home? How many more students have to walk into a school, only to never walk out? Our children have a right to live and learn in a safe environment. If these tragedies do not serve as a serious wake-up call to our nation to take action, I don’t know what will.”