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Preventing Violence in Our Schools: A Nation Divided

Is there a solution upon which we can all agree?

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The topic of preventing further tragedies in schools seems to have come to a turning point in our society. With the Parkland shooting, debate is visceral and raw, with a variety of opinions in the matter, many of which focus on the problem of gun violence. We asked two seniors to debate this issue, discussing how they felt we as a country could solve this pervasive problem.

Paint a picture for us regarding our current situation.

Waclawski: Our country is presently facing an epidemic of mass shootings, whether they be in schools, at concerts, or in workplaces. A few months after the shooting that sparked this debate, the Parkland shooting, almost no progress has been made: no legislation, no action from our government, and nothing more than angry people yelling in the streets.

Ayala: In 2018, there have been 17 schools across the nation that have experienced the dangers of gun violence firsthand. The incidence of school shootings has steadily increased since Columbine in 1999. With a new generation of strong-minded people, the March for our Lives movement was begun soon after the Parkland shooting. Young people have led the charge, fighting for action against gun violence.

One idea to prevent these shootings is to arm teachers in the classroom.

Ayala: Arming teachers leaves much room for error. Where would the gun(s) be kept? What kind of firearms will teachers possess? What would be the requirements to be armed? Would holding firearms be limited to high school teachers or would it be extended to middle/elementary schools teachers as well? With so many unanswered questions, opposition to arming teachers grows stronger. The concept of arming teachers does not pose a solution to the root of the issue: gun violence in America.

Waclawski: Unfortunately, there is no single fix. Ways of life in urban and rural areas have gone in completely different directions. While a teacher who lives in a rural area and has some familiarity with gun culture might be qualified and prepared to carry a firearm in class, a teacher in an urban area will not.

Ayala: Arming teachers would raise the amount of stress and responsibility that teachers already feel. That responsibility laid to the teacher – even with proper training, is too great. We can’t know how a teacher will react to a real school shooting situation. Coming face-to-face with a shooter, especially if the shooter is one of the teacher’s students, would make a decision to pull the trigger very difficult. During a school shooting, there is already enough confusion, teachers don’t need the added concern of possible cross-fire. A teacher’s main purpose is to educate their students, and while they are expected to protect their students, being trained to own, operate, and use a gun should not be included in their job requirements.

What can we do to prevent further tragedies?

Waclawski: Almost every mass shooting has occurred in a “gun free zone.” A shooter is much more likely to attack a building that does not employ any type of resistance. The simple addition of an SRO would greatly increase safety. More SROs in schools would be beneficial to students. Bringing more guns into schools alone will not solve the school shooting issue, but putting experienced individuals who know how to use firearms into schools will act as both a deterrence and a proactive defensive measure.

Ayala: There are many other solutions to guarding ourselves against school shootings that don’t include arming teachers. We do not need to bring more guns into our communities. Two less risky and arguably more effective solutions would be to have a better focus on and understanding of mental health issues within schools and to implement tougher restrictions on gun purchases.

Many argue that having an SRO isn’t enough, and that many of the victimized schools had an SRO but still couldn’t prevent tragedy.

Waclawski: The average response time for emergency calls to the police is 18 minutes. The average time of a shooting is 13 minutes. Having one or more SROs would negate the response time and increase the survivability of the situation. After an interview with Brewster High School’s SRO, I learned that the Brewster School District is currently developing more measures to increase school safety. I was also reassured that the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department is prepared to respond to an active shooter. Having one or more SROs on school campuses would be a much better solution than arming teachers.

Ayala: The bitter truth remains that while those specific SRO officers weren’t able to prevent the incident, a better solution would be to increase the number of officers in schools and revise their training to make them better prepared for school shootings. The argument has been made that armed teachers would be better in rural areas where police enforcement isn’t available in close proximity. Even then, an armed SRO would handle the situation better than an armed teacher. Additionally, if school boards are willing to spend their budget on firearms, training, and fingerprint safety, wouldn’t it be a wiser decision to spend that money on another SRO?

Finally, how can we progress not only as a whole nation but as a safe community, too?

Ayala: School shootings have steadily increased since Columbine in 1999. Upon hearing about the individuals who lost their lives in the recent Parkland shooting, the nation cried together, showing their sympathy to the victims and their families. With a new generation of strong-minded people, the March for our Lives movement was begun soon after. Young people have led the charge, fighting for action. Arming teachers is a band aid. We must focus on fixing the root of the problem. Increase the number of well-trained SROs and implement greater restrictions on gun purchases in order to prevent future tragedies.

Waclawski: To progress as a nation, we must come together and have peaceful discussions. It will not be solved overnight; it will take years to develop working solutions. But the one way to begin is placing well-trained student resource officers in every school in the US. We must end our divisiveness and stop blaming people. As a country, we have overcome and faced some of the greatest evils ever conceived. The school shooting epidemic is one more evil that we must stare down, prepare for, and solve. And we must start now.

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