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State Rep. Steve Shurtleff: GOP refuses to take school gun violence seriously



For the Monitor
Monday, June 11, 2018

This year we’ve seen how strong a hold the National Rifle Association has on our Republican colleagues.

On both a state and federal level, officials are refusing to take obvious and necessary steps to solve this terrible problem. In the latest example of our government officials’ ineffectualness, both Gov. Chris Sununu and President Donald Trump’s respective school safety commissions announced they won’t look into the role that guns play in endangering students when examining school violence.

In testimony late last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos argued that looking into guns was “not a part of the commission’s charge, per se,” even though the commission was created as a response to the Parkland shooting. New Hampshire State Emergency Management Commissioner Perry Plummer, who chairs Sununu’s school safety task force, had expressed a similarly out-of-touch statement the week before, arguing there wasn’t enough time to tackle the issue.

It’s hard to believe the fact that even after what feels like countless school shootings we still have to fight to include guns in a debate about school safety.

What will it take before Republicans join us to take serious steps to work to stop this epidemic of school shootings? How much more will they allow before they finally summon the bravery to stand up to the NRA and fight to defend our children?

Since the Columbine shooting just over 19 years ago, we’ve seen the damage that guns can do to schools and students. For a school safety commission to completely ignore this reality we all live in means that no substantive change will come from them. There is no way a commission can curb violence in schools if it refuses to look at the tragically common trend of school shootings.

Following the Parkland shooting in February, it seemed that things had changed. For once it seemed like the debate had broken through the usual partisan sniping and that real gun safety legislation stood a chance. And in some states, changes were made: Vermont and Florida both passed rigorous gun safety laws.

But while several states stood up to defend the safety of their children, too many followed along the same path as Sununu and the Republican Legislature here in New Hampshire and did nothing. Just days after the shooting, Sununu reaffirmed his support for allowing guns on campus. And with Sununu’s support, Republicans in the House and Senate knocked down each gun safety bill and amendment that my colleagues and I proposed and supported.

This staunch refusal to act was met with active resistance from students and parents alike who protested and demanded change. But, Republicans chose to ignore the urging of our students and held tight to their NRA dogma.

What has been made clear by these safety commission announcements is that as long as Republicans are in charge, no gun safety bills will pass.

If we want to stop living in a world where gun violence is a constant in our lives, then we must remove these people from office. They’ve had their chance to make schools safer and they failed. It’s time to elect individuals to the Legislature and the governor’s office who will finally enact laws to solve this problem and protect our children.

(Steve Shurtleff of Penacook is the Democratic leader of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)