A year since Parkland and we still won’t talk about guns

A boy holds up a sign during the March for Our Lives in Atlanta on Saturday, March 24, 2018.  The event, in response to the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 people, drew 60,000 marchers to downtown Atlanta.

Credit: Reann Huber

Combined ShapeCaption
A boy holds up a sign during the March for Our Lives in Atlanta on Saturday, March 24, 2018.  The event, in response to the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 people, drew 60,000 marchers to downtown Atlanta.

Credit: Reann Huber

Credit: Reann Huber

Many states including Georgia are grappling with how to prevent school shootings. For example, Senate Bill 15 would require Georgia schools to review student records to identify kids with markers associated with violence. The legislation describes these reviews as threat assessments.

Yet, Georgia has made no effort to address a proven threat to U.S. students --- guns.

In fact, a state Senate committee on school safety created in the wake of the deadly school shooting a year ago this week in Parkland, Fl., never mentions guns. The final report references weapons once in a recommendation for legislation creating felony penalties for Georgia parents "who act recklessly in allowing children to have access to dangerous materials or weapons."

Since the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, at least 1,200 children and teens under the age of 18 have died from gun injuries. In a series released today, the Trace, an online nonprofit news organization that covers firearms issues, researched and wrote profiles of all of those victims.

The Trace writes:

The 12-month period starting Feb. 14, 2018, saw nearly 1,200 lives snuffed out. That's a Parkland every five days, enough victims to fill three ultra-wide Boeing 777s. The true number is certainly higher because no government agency keeps a real-time tally and funding for research is restricted by law.

Also today, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released a report debunking myths about school shootings. The Truth about School Shootings addresses myths promulgated by the gun lobby and embraced by many lawmakers, including here in Georgia, as rationales for not considering even modest laws to keep firearms away from children.

Opponents of any new gun regulations argue stockpiles of guns in American homes and quick access to them keeps violence at bay. Our guns make our children safer, they say. But, if that is the case, why do more 10- to 19-year-olds in America die from gunshot wounds than any other cause except car accidents?

In 2018—a year in which America experienced two of the deadliest school shootings in recent history—there were more incidents of gun violence and more gun deaths at schools than any other year on record, according to the Giffords Law Center report.  It describes school shootings as “a uniquely Americans crisis.”

“Freedom from fear is something we should strive to give to every child in America. But millions of children live in fear of how a gun could forever change their lives,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center. “We have allowed this country’s gun violence crisis to weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of the next generation. We should not accept that shooter drills are now a routine part of a school day, or that students are constantly worried about whether they will hear gunfire while sitting in a classroom or walking home. This crisis is unique to our country. We know what works. We know how to provide relief to our students by passing stronger gun laws. It’s on leaders to find the courage to act.”

A University of Michigan study found guns are now the second leading cause of death for American children 18 and under after car crashes. In fact, nearly twice as many children die from guns as from cancer. The United States stands alone in these grim statistics compared to other developed nations.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers said: 

The rate of firearm deaths among children and adolescents was higher in the United States than in all other high-income countries and low-to-middle-income countries with available 2016 data. The rate in the United States was 36.5 times as high as the overall rate observed in 12 other high-income countries

Between 2013 and 2016, there was a 28% relative increase in the rate of firearm deaths. This upward trend in firearm mortality reflected increases in rates of firearm homicide (by 32%) and firearm suicide (by 26%).

Here are the five myths outlined in the Giffords Center’s new report:

Myth 1: School Shootings are just a fact of life. School shootings are a problem that's only getting worse. 2018 saw more incidents of gun violence and more gun deaths at school than any other year on record. A student's chance of dying in a school shooting reached its highest level in at least 25 years.

Myth 2: Nothing can be done to prevent school shootings. It's clear that gun laws can prevent shootings and save lives. Almost 1 million high school students can legally purchase an AR-15, the firearm used in 6 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings. Evidence shows that child access prevention laws encourage safe storage practices, extreme risk protection orders can allow law enforcement or family members to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual in crisis, and minimum age laws would help to prevent individuals at increased risk of violence from accessing dangerous weapons.

Myth 3: Schools need armed teachers to respond to shootings. Decades of public health research indicate that arming teachers will not prevent violence in schools. In fact, armed teachers would likely increase, rather than decrease, students' exposure to gun violence in schools.

Myth 4: School shootings are largely caused by mental health issues. The gun lobby often tries to blame mental health after school shootings. But the vast majority of people with mental illness are not more violent than the general population. However, students who experience school shootings can suffer severe anxiety and debilitating trauma. During the 2017–2018 school year, 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown.

Myth 5: Children are most likely to experience gun violence at school. School shootings are just the tip of the iceberg. Every day, children and teens fall victim to gun violence in their homes and communities. Nearly a third of gun homicides of young children occur in the context of domestic violence and black children are 10 times more likely than white children to be fatally shot by a gun. Every year, more than three million children witness gun violence.

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