This past week, Gov. Greg Abbott seemed to sincerely search for solutions to an epidemic of mass shootings that has too often killed and injured our schoolchildren and teachers.
He held roundtable meetings at the Texas Capitol that asked all the stakeholders — lawmakers, law enforcement, school administrators, student survivors — to put their ideas on the table. How can we end the bloody killings, he asked? We need to “do more than just pray,” he said.
With all due respect, we also need to do more than count on our elected officials to get the job done, because so far they haven’t.
The arc of response by federal lawmakers following most school shootings has been predictable: mourn the loss of life — yes, pray — then launch into the predictable partisan fisticuffs over banning assault weapons, limiting access to firearms, and expanding background checks.
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The result: just small stuff.
LAWMAKERS HAVEN’T GOTTEN THE JOB DONE
In the five-plus years since Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook elementary, killing 20 children and six educators, there’s been no significant gun-access reform in Washington.
Background checks have been strengthened in some states, but Texas isn’t one of them. Here, if you buy a gun from a private seller at a gun show or online, you can dodge a background check, even if you’re mentally ill or have a criminal record. And don’t expect Texas legislators to close that loophole anytime soon.
So, for the moment, let’s forget about new gun-access laws. We need to continue that conversation. But let’s look at what we can do beginning now.
The “we” in this includes all of us. Beyond school officials and law enforcement it’s our churches, homeowner associations, community groups and crime watches. It’s friends who get together. Neighbors, employees, scouting groups, anyone who is alarmed by what’s happening.
CITIZENS HAVE SOME GOOD IDEAS
Star-Telegram readers have suggested some good ideas that don’t require an act of Congress or our legislature to get done.
▪ Kirstine McIntosh of Edgecliff Village recommends a major media education campaign like the anti- smoking campaign. “Stop Shooting - Lay Down Your Weapons,” would teach families how to recognize problems and prevent violence. Could advertising companies and media groups step up and take that on?
▪ Foster Foreman of Austin says schools should add more counselors who could recognize and talk down students with problems. Doubtful state lawmakers will come up with the money to greatly increase the paltry number of school counselors, about one for each 400 Texas students. But maybe the professional counselors in our communities can provide training for school personnel and the public, so we’re more aware of those among us who are troubled.
▪ Parents, this one’s on you. Get the kids off their video games and away from TV programs where they’re “killing everyone and everything in sight.” That’s a suggestion from Reggie Hicks in Fort Worth. Violent video games alone may not turn your kids into killers, but research shows they tend to make children more aggressive.
▪ Parents who own firearms — keep them out of the hands of your children. The 17-year old Santa Fe shooter killed his classmates with a shotgun and revolver that belonged to his father. An Illinois dad returned weapons taken away from his mentally disturbed son who then used them to kill four at a Tennessee Waffle House in April.
Texas has a law that holds parents accountable if their children under age 17 gain access to loaded weapons and misuse them. But that’s after the fact. Parents need to take responsibility. Gun manufacturers and retailers, promote a safe gun storage campaign. Whatever is being done now isn’t working.
▪ All of us using social media: be alert for individuals who say they want to kill, hurt, or make someone pay. Don’t be timid about reporting it to police. The worst thing that could happen is that the person didn’t mean it and gets embarrassed.
▪ Tech folks, design a mobile phone app students could use to report classmates with disturbing behavior. That one came from a student attending a governor’s roundtable.
These are all worthy ideas. Now, let’s do more than talk.
One faith-based group in Fort Worth sets a good example. In April, after a 13-year old was attacked and seriously injured on her way home from school, volunteers donned green shirts and whistles and began patrolling near the schools and the bus stop where she was assaulted. They didn’t wait for the attacker to strike again. They worked with police to distribute information about the suspect. And they’re still watching, protecting the kids.
Tell us if you have a suggestion or you're already acting to prevent gun violence. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our Facebook page.
Don't wait on elected officials to stop school shootings. The solutions begin with “we."