331. 185. 369. 311,000. 23. 0.
331 school shootings.
185 students, educators, and staff killed.
369 students, educators, and staff injured.
More than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence on campus.
In 23 years.
And what have we done? Zero. Not a single significant change has been made to our laws, the support systems, or the culture that allows our children to be put at risk every single day.
It’s taken me a few days to collect my feelings and thoughts on the tragic events that occurred in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24th, 2022. I feel heartbreak for all students, parents, staff, and families that lost those closest to them. I feel sadness for every student, parent, and school staff member in our society who has to fear going to school. I feel anger that we, as a community, a society, and a country, haven’t done anything to fix a problem that results in the tragic death of our most vulnerable population.
The response is always the same – “It’s too soon to talk about this,” “we need common-sense gun reform,” “we need better mental health support,” and “thoughts and prayers.”
The thing is, we don’t do any of it. Not a single significant change has been made since the tragic events of Columbine 23 years ago. We never end up having a serious conversation about it, at least not one that leads anywhere. We don’t have stricter laws on the books; we barely enforce the ones we do have. Funding for mental health support has been gutted, insurance rates are unaffordable for a large population, and insurance coverage for mental health is absolutely inadequate. Sure, our leaders might have thoughts and prayers or what seems like a serious discussion for a few days – but it doesn’t change anything. Now we even have elected officials, those charged with keeping our kids and communities safe, claiming that these are false flag events perpetrated by the government to push the agenda of disarming Americans. The way we address these events, 23 years later, has become even more despicable.
Schools around the country have had to implement lockdown drills, increase security, and make any effort possible to improve our students’ safety. And much of it has been without the support of our legislators or increased budgets. Arizona, for example, has an Aggregate Expenditure Limit cap for our education budget – this means that a calculation from 1980 sets a maximum dollar amount for the education budget, a calculation that doesn’t take into account the addition of new technology, significant increases in inflation/wages, or for the purpose of this article, preventative safety measures or solutions to mass shootings in schools. That’s on top of us already being in the bottom 5% in the US in per-pupil funding for education. Our schools have had to find a balance between keeping our kids safe and being able to fund their education. That’s not ok.
Arizona does have a School Safety Program in which state funding can be used for either school counselors, social workers, or SRO/JPO positions. The problem is that the funding is limited, and it’s not accessible to all schools. It’s a grant program that requires an application and approval, and it only lasts for three years before a school has to reapply. Every school should have an SRO. Every school should have counselors. Every school should have social workers. These are all things that directly benefit our students and community, yet we’re unwilling to fund these programs to help our kids.
So here’s the part where you ask: “Well, Craig, what’s your solution?” I’m going to be honest. I don’t have one. None of us do. But we CAN do something about it. We NEED to do something about it.
So as parents and community members, what can we do? Advocate.
We can advocate for our kids to our local school boards. We can ask them to review all safety plans with industry experts to ensure that they meet standard operating procedures and operational security standards. We can demand that while each school has some autonomy in creating its plans, the district has final approval on these plans. We can make sure that our campuses are completing lockdown drills on a regular basis, educating our students on the seriousness of the matter, and that our entire staff is prepared for any type of event.
We can advocate for increased funding. Contact your state legislators and demand that they fund our public education system to a minimum of the national average. In 2022, the national average per-pupil funding is $15,908, compared to Arizona’s average of $8,239. That’s an extra $7669 per student that can be used to benefit students through improved curriculum, access to additional support and resources, increased teacher pay, and school safety. It can help our districts to afford School Resource Officers, counselors, and social workers.
We can advocate for better mental health support. Contact your state and federal legislators and demand that they create more robust programs and support for mental health treatment. As it stands, mental health is increasingly challenging to access for many Americans. Most insurance companies only cover one appointment per month, don’t pay providers a reasonable rate, or make it difficult for someone suffering from a mental health crisis to access support. We treat mental health as a demon in this country, and too many people avoid the help they need because of the negative connotation that comes along with seeking support or admitting there is a problem. We need to normalize mental health care and make it affordable and easily accessible to our students and communities.
We can demand from our legislators and law enforcement agencies that we enforce our current firearms laws while we seek solutions to reduce access to individuals who would commit such atrocities. This one might be a less popular opinion, but the fact is that we have a problem. I’ve worked in the industry. I know the marketing tactics, I know the mentality of the industry, and I know that we make it far too easy for those who shouldn’t have guns to buy them. We need reform, and we can work together to make sure that enthusiasts, sportspeople, and hunters can participate in the activities they love while reducing the access of firearms to those who are unfit for the responsibility and respect that comes along with firearm ownership.
But most of all, we need to work together. This is a very complex issue that will require a multifaceted approach. No single solution will solve the problem. We must come together as a country and as a society and recognize that we have a problem that needs correction. Until we’re willing to work together, we can’t honestly say, “never again.” Because until we work together to find a solution, it will happen again.