Point of View: One of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong

Susan Lamontagne is an advocate for children's health and environmental protection. Courtesy photo

The reading nook in Mrs. Cullender’s second-grade class featured seats pulled out of old cars, two iguanas and an oversized rabbit, rays of sunshine, and stress-free kids. That was 1971. Flash forward to today and companies are selling bullet-proof bomb shelters for school reading nooks and bullet-proof backpacks to kids.

Something is very wrong.

The shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were killed, is one of 17 school shootings in 2018, according to EveryTown for Gun Safety. That’s 17 in 10 weeks and one of 290 school shootings since Sandy Hook when 24 elementary school students and teachers were gunned down in December 2012.

This would be a good place to include some official government statistics on school shootings, but astoundingly there aren’t any. After a 1993 study by Arthur Kellerman found that guns in the home were linked to an increased risk of homicide in the home, the National Rifle Association (NRA) pushed for something called The Dickey Amendment, which stopped the Centers for Disease Control and any other government agency from researching or compiling data on gun violence.

It’s worth noting that Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas, came to regret his role in the policy. He died in 2012, but we’re still living with the fallout.

Of the 290 school shootings since Sandy Hook, 86 resulted in death or injury, according to EveryTown. Most occur after a fight breaks out at a school sporting event or in the cafeteria. TIME Magazine analyzed the data further, defining school shootings as one where the victim was either a student or teacher. That brought the number to 63. Of those, none were perpetrated by an adult female; one was by a teen female; 16 were perpetrated by males age 19 and older; and 37 were perpetrated by male teenagers, typically at age 15. The remaining shooters were unidentified.

So how do we stop this madness?

People blame video games, a lack of parenting, or mental health. But every other first-world country struggles with these issues and they don’t have school shootings. What we do have that they don’t is a lot of guns. The United States has five percent of the world’s population and half the guns. And we make it easy to get one. After Parkland, a video circulated showing a teen boy unable to buy beer, cigarettes, and a lottery ticket, but he had no problem buying a gun.

That is insane.

Some people believe the solution is more guns. President Trump proposed arming teachers. Literally the next day a teacher shot himself in a classroom in Georgia. Florida just passed legislation to arm coaches and librarians. Yet, an armed guard at Columbine, a sheriff’s deputy at Parkland, and dozens of trained soldiers at Fort Hood couldn’t stop those massacres. I doubt Miss Beasley packing heat is the solution.

Is change coming? The “Stop School Violence Act,” introduced this week by U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, has four components. Not one of them addresses guns. Prior to Hatch’s bill, former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island, who lost her husband to gun violence on the LIRR, introduced legislation to require liability insurance for gun owners and report any selling or transfer of a firearm to a national criminal background check system. Her bill never passed. Meanwhile four states, including New York, have considered mandatory gun liability insurance, but none have come to fruition. If you’re wondering, most insurance companies don’t even ask homeowners if they own a gun, and when coverage is provided, it’s typically to replace a gun that’s lost or stolen — not if it’s used to harm someone.

But there’s hope. The young people of Parkland are refusing to take no for an answer. They are organizing marches (March 24) and school walkouts (March 14 and April 20) and demanding change. And companies from Dick’s Sporting Goods to Walmart have announced they will raise the age for purchasing a gun and stop selling AR-15s. When corporate America is ahead of our political leaders, you know the ground has shifted.

Parents want our children to be safe at school. Teachers, administrators, and school staff need to be safe at work. Children and teenagers must be able to go to school without the fear of being shot or killed. No one signed up for this. And yet nothing we do will stop it unless we fix our gun problem.

Susan Lamontagne is president of Public Interest Media Group, a Sag Harbor-based PR firm specializing in health, environment, and education. Her column reflects her personal opinion and not that of the Sag Harbor School Board of Education, of which is a member.