The Editorial Board
The senseless murder of 19 children and two adults at a school in Uvalde, Texas is a national tragedy and a national disgrace. The 18-year-old gunman who walked into Robb Elementary School May 24 gunned down children as young as 10 and wounded 17 more in what is the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Add to that a lackluster police response and you have another layer of disgust and disbelief.
In our area, it doesn’t take a national tragedy to make kids and parents feel under threat. An 18-month-old who lived in the Hays Manor housing plan in McKees Rocks was shot May 29 in downtown Pittsburgh, the unintended target of a bullet meant for someone else. The day before, two people had been shot at Hays Manor when someone peppered the complex with bullets.
In this climate of violence, the Sto-Rox School District is petitioning the courts to form its own police force with the authority to perform arrests in school. They plan to hire three additional officers who will potentially be armed, as language in the proposal allows for them to carry guns.
Sto-Rox is in an impossible situation, trying to make students feel safer by bringing in more people to police them. In the open meeting to discuss the additional officers, Jordan Allen, an implementation specialist at Community in School, Pittsburgh-Allegheny County who works at Sto-Rox, worried that armed officers would traumatize kids who are already shell-shocked.
School Board President Cameron Culliver said in that meeting the main reason to arm officers was to deal with any active shooter situations. Culliver stressed that he wanted students to have a positive relationship with officers, and would try to limit guns on officers who had to deal with kids on a daily basis.
Several Pittsburgh districts have been sued in recent years for excessive violence against students perpetrated by officers in schools. It’s a national problem, encouraged by zero-tolerance policies, which have been spurred on by mass school shootings.
A landmark 2007 study conducted by the state of Texas concludes that children who are arrested for minor infractions in schools often end up being labeled as problem students. Early arrests create a pattern that can lead kids from the schoolyard into prison.
The failure of police to intervene during the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the random nature of the shooting that took the life of an infant in Downtown Pittsburgh, which police could not have predicted, shows that these tragedies need to be prevented before they reach a crisis point. We, as a culture, must stop treating them as inevitable.
Locally, State Sen. Wayne Fontana has proposed a bill that would allow people to file an extreme risk of protection order, or “red flag law,” that would allow people to petition a court for the temporary removal (up to a year) of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. This is a step in the right direction, but more steps need to be taken.
Gun owners need to be part of the solution. Enacting laws that would require greater regulation of weapons, including mandatory safety and weapons handling laws prior to purchasing guns, proper vetting to make sure gun owners aren’t mentally ill and actual enforcement of present bans on automatic weapons would change the landscape of our culture.
The majority of gun owners do not want to see a weapon hurt a child. Their political buy-in supporting these measures is essential to bring about change.
The remedy for gun violence cannot be more guns.