On December 14th, 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, devastating the nation.
The realization that small children and teachers were in danger in their classrooms was, for many Americans, not only heartbreaking. It was unacceptable. Together, Newtown’s families and survivors of gun violence nationwide raised their voices in a renewed call for action.
The gun safety movement is stronger than it has ever been, because of them. More states – including Connecticut, Louisiana, Colorado, and Washington – are putting life-saving laws on the books that are strengthening the gun-sale background check system, preventing the seriously mentally ill from buying guns, and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
But the fact remains – gun violence is pervasive in our country. Many people don’t realize that since Sandy Hook, there have been nearly 100 more school shootings.
In other words, the unacceptable has become almost routine. Every parent’s worst nightmare comes true nearly once a week. And in our schools, lockdown drills have become as common as fire drills.
This week, Everytown for Gun Safety released an analysis of the 94 school shootings over the past two years. Not all of them are homicides. Not all of them are fatal. Not all of them occur in a mostly white suburb, or after an intruder shoots his way through the front door.
Suicides don’t make national headlines. Nor do incidents of gang violence, or so-called “accidental” shootings, or arguments that senselessly escalate into gunplay.
Everytown counts every school shooting – because every victim, and every school community, matters.
Every time a gun goes off at school, the sense of security that every parent and teacher wants for our kids is destroyed. And ultimately, counting these shootings is the first step to doing something about them.
Gang-related shootings count. If you disagree, talk to Annette Holt, or any of the parents who have lost school-age children to stray bullets.
A student shooting himself in the head counts – because his classmates will remember his attempted suicide as the worst school day of their lives.
A college instructor shooting himself in the foot counts – because whenever a gun goes off in a classroom, it’s terrifying. This is exactly the kind of unintentional shooting that school administrators are trying to prevent, over the gun lobby’s objections.
With the facts about school shootings, policymakers can and should do more than offer condolences.
First, stronger child access prevention laws can ensure that irresponsible gun owners face the consequences in court. It’s not an “accident” when a child brings a gun to school after a family member fails to store his or her gun properly – it’s criminal negligence. Everytown’s analysis shows that of the K-12 school shootings in which the shooter’s age was known, minors perpetrated 70% of them. Where it was possible to determine the source of the guns, nearly two-thirds of the shooters obtained guns from home.
Next, lawmakers can stand up to the gun lobby and its allies. NRA lobbyists continue to push to allow guns on college campuses, for example. But when colleges are permitted to opt out of allowing guns on their property, they almost uniformly do so.
When the gun lobby pushes for guns at school, we have to ask – are they interested in protecting kids, or in protecting the gun industry? Everytown found that more than a third of recent school shootings occurred after an argument or confrontation escalated into a shooting. Any policy that increases the chance that a fistfight or a frat party turns fatal is irresponsible.
More responsible storage of firearms, a stronger background check system, and reasonable limits on where people can carry guns are what would make children and college students safer.
We’ll never make those gains if we settle for lockdown drills and guns in schools as the answer to gun violence. Or if we address the issue of school shootings by pretending they don’t count.
John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.