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The Safe Students Act

Guest Column

The Safe Students Act or H.R. 34 is a bill introduced to the 115th Congress by Kentucky State Representative Thomas Massie on January 5, 2017. Will this bill be the beginning of the end of school violence, or, will it fail to stop the violence that takes the lives of innocent children, by removing the Gun-Free School Zones? “In 2018 alone, there have already been 17 (school) shootings, the highest number during any year since at least 1999” (Cox et al. 2018). The Safe Students Act would repeal the Gun Free Zone Act of 1990 which found it “unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.” (Massie 2017). According to Congress.gov, Rep. Massie has seven cosponsors in support of this bill: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), Rep. Jody Amash (R-MI), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

Rep. Massie states, “Gun free school zones are ineffective. They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments” (2017). With the little protection schools have and the inability for a licensed individual to protect themselves or other, it makes schools an easy target for any gun violence. According to del Guidice from The Daily Signal, “Gun-free zones stop law-abiding citizens from being able to defend themselves. They don’t stop criminals” (2018). During this campaign, Massie has gained the support of three major organizations: National Association for Gun Rights, Gun Owners of America, and the National Rifle Association (Massie, 2017).

By repealing the GFZA of 1990, the school district has options to adjust their safety plans as they see fit. “The Crime Prevention Research Center found that from the 1950s through July 10, 2016, 98.4 percent of mass shootings have happened in gun-free zones” (del Guidice, 2018). According to the Washington Post, “more than 250,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine” which occurred in 1999 (Cox et al. 2018). The most recent act of mass shooting, the Santa Fe school shooting on May 18, 2018 involved a “17-year-old Santa Fe High School student walked into an art class…opened fire on students and school employees, killing ten people and injuring 13 others” (Abbott, 2018).

Governor Greg Abbott released a School and Firearm Safety Action Plan on May 30, 2018; 12 days after the Santa Fe Shooting. He met with superintendents, administrators, and law enforcement officials for input (Abbott, 2018). During Abbott’s roundtable meeting, it was suggested that to end school gun violence, action needs to be taken. Increasing law enforcement presences at schools, additional school marshals, training for active shooter and emergency response, and strengthening current school security were all suggestions to make the school safer (2018). Alone, these suggestions are good. But in addition to the repeal of GFZA of 1990, this could be the end of so many deaths of innocent children.

The President of the National Education Association (NEA) Garcia stated, “We need a solution that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators” (Johnson 2018). Is arming teachers a step in the right direction in solving the issues of gun violence in schools? According to The United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, and NEA President Lily Garcia, they do not believe so. (Johnson 2018). President Mulgrew made the statement, “We need to be preparing our lessons, not learning how to reload a gun” (Johnson 2018).

Today’s law, The Protection of Child Act 2013, allows school districts to hire “specially trained staff members,” who are willing to carry a firearm and protect the staff and students (Abbott, 2018). However, this law also requires any marshal to lock their firearm in a safe when on campus (Abbott, 2018). During an emergency, this makes it difficult for these marshals to act quickly and efficiently. The current law only allows for one marshal per every 200 students (Abbott, 2018). Removing the GFZA of 1990, would allow each school district to hire any staff member who is licensed to carry and allow them to provide protection for themselves and their students.

Losing our children to senseless violence should not be tolerated. To stop this violence from continuing to happen, action must be taken. To say this bill will stop school gun violence; only time will tell. However, it is a step in the right direction to taking back the ability to protect our children, loved ones, and our community from further violence. In today’s times, it is not a question of IF it will happen, but when, and how are we prepared for it.

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Marissa Childress is a Master’s candate at Texas State University