President’s Gun Safety Proposal Addresses School Safety

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In response to last month’s tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Obama called for congressional and executive action to reduce gun violence across the country. In mid-January, he released “Now Is the Time,” a gun safety plan that, among other measures, provides funding to increase school safety, to support the development of school emergency plans, and to encourage the improvement of school climates.

In his second inaugural address, the president renewed his call to protect our nation’s children, proclaiming “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.” To achieve this, his gun safety proposal includes measures that would require and improve background checks for all gun sales, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and increase access to mental health treatment.

The proposal’s comprehensive school safety program makes $150 million in grants available to school districts and law enforcement agencies for the hiring of school resource officers (meaning law enforcement or security personnel) and school counselors, the purchasing of school safety equipment, the development and improvement of emergency plans, and the crisis response training of staff. This funding would allow for up to 1,000 new hires in our nation’s schools, but we at The Education Trust strongly advocate that those funds be used to employ more counselors and to provide students with additional mental health services and support. They should not be used to place more armed guards in our schools.

The proposal also calls for the federal departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security to work together to identify and release high-quality emergency plans as well as best practices for the implementation of those plans. The proposal suggests $30 million in additional grant funding to help school districts implement their emergency plans.

Finally, the president’s proposal requests $50 million for the implementation of strategies intended to improve school climate, and instructs the Department of Education to release best practices on school discipline polices for school districts. These provisions should help school leaders create a safer environment for students and better prepare for emergencies, should they occur.

In the United States, one child or teen is killed by a gun every three hours. Students of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence, with African-American children accounting for 45 percent of all child gun deaths in 2008 and 2009, even though they comprise only 15 percent of the nation’s child population.  Clearly, something needs to be done to protect our children from senseless killing by weapons that are too readily available. The president’s proposal offers a number of good first steps in that direction. But we are leery of putting more guns and more armed personnel in our schools.

—Nicole Tortoriello