Editorial: More must be done to protect kids

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Last week, New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu responded to having been given a grade of “F” for his actions on student safety in a newspaper column by incoming Somersworth High School Principal John Shea. Through a spokesman, Sununu pointed out that he had backed $20 million in spending to improve school infrastructure and security. He also formed a task force to study school security.

A task force? Funding that is a fraction of what’s needed, especially given the demise of state school building aid? We won’t assign a grade, but if we did, it wouldn’t be a good one.

In Texas, the site of the latest mass killing and wounding of students and faculty, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott began a series of meetings with students, educators, lawmakers, gun advocates, mental health experts and others to discuss how to make schools safer. The Santa Fe, Texas, high school where a single student armed with a shotgun and revolver killed 10 and wounded 10 others was considered to have been hardened. It had an award-winning active shooter plan, conducted drills and had two armed police officers patrolling the building. Despite all that, a 17-year-old male student who routinely dressed in a long, black trench coat succeeded in smuggling guns and ammunition into the school.

Abbott has called for better identification of students at risk of acting violently and prevention efforts, money to improve collaboration between school districts and law enforcement, and a review of school security measures. All will help, but none will end the slaughter of innocents.

Students, led by the survivors of the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., are forcing lawmakers to listen. An election to determine who makes laws is just five months away. Prior school shootings led largely to lamentation and talk. Now, action seems possible. What should that action be?

Certainly schools should do all they can to eliminate bullying and create a culture of inclusiveness. Most, but not all, shooters give their peers at least a hint of their plan. Parents and educators must convince students who are naturally loath to tattle that they could regret not having done so or become a victim themselves. But more must be done.

Limiting access to firearms through age limits, background checks and red flag laws that allow the temporary confiscation of weapons owned by people suspected of being a danger to themselves or others are the most effective ways to reduce school shootings. Shootings that do occur could be made less lethal by limits on the number of rounds that a weapon’s magazine can hold. Yet as the Santa Fe tragedy demonstrated – the shooter used a revolver and a pump action shotgun – century-old technology is quite capable of creating carnage.

Will Congress or most state legislatures enact meaningful control laws any time soon? Massive lobbying efforts by groups like the NRA, Second Amendment fanaticism and Republican reluctance to enact even minimal restrictions make it unlikely at best.

Given that, with great reluctance but in recognition of that reality, we suggest that all schools, beginning at the high school level, install metal detectors at their entrances. They aren’t expensive – generally less than $5,000 apiece. They offer no threat to health or privacy and do not require legislation to install. It would be a sad comment on the times and not a perfect solution, but since politicians aren’t doing enough to protect America’s kids, school boards, parents and the kids themselves have to do more.