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I Work in Education: Washington Must Act on Guns

State and municipal governments and local school districts continue to do more to safeguard the safety of students; it is long past time that the federal government joins that effort.

by Steven Cea

School districts have taken serious steps to prepare for the unthinkable.  In close coordination with local law enforcement and first responders, the Paramus Public Schools in NJ, where I work as Business Administrator, has taken many actions to increase student safety. It’s a long list, including creating new systems for ID cards, cameras and access control and visitor management systems, installing bollards and protective glass, upgrading phone and public address systems, and constructing man-traps to isolate visitors to control building access. This coordinated effort also includes conducting quarterly emergency response team meetings, training staff, expanded school counselors and student assistance coordinators to build trust and urge students to report issues before something happens, inviting police to regularly enter schools to engage students and show a presence, and making buildings available to police to conduct live exercises during school breaks. Paramus Schools have also updated emergency plans, conducted regular drills, implemented table top exercises and evacuations, numbered entrances and rooms both internally and externally to help direct first responders as well as hiring and training security guards in all district schools.
Believe it or not, this is not an exhaustive list of all of the investments Paramus and many other school districts across the country have made to protect students and staff.  The district gets unprecedented cooperation from the municipal government because it recognizes the importance of doing whatever is necessary to increase the odds of survival in the event of tragedy.
On the other hand, the federal response to gun violence is woefully inadequate. Congress talks about three options as if they were mutually exclusive. It is not a choice of gun control, mental health treatment, or training.  It’s all of the above.
Our political leaders doubt whether the often-voiced “common sense gun control measures” will prevent school shootings.  The same can be said for the actions taken on the state and local level.  None of the measures listed above taken alone will prove 100% effective in preventing loss of life.  They are designed, in their totality, to build a security web to slow an attacker and save as many lives as possible in the first few vital minutes of an active shooter incident.
We need to demand that Congress pass and the President sign legislation that would require universal background checks, close the gun show loophole, reinstate the assault weapons ban, ban high capacity magazines, bump stocks, and armor piercing bullets, eliminate the prohibition on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track gun violence, and other measures often sited after a horrific school shooting but never acted upon.  If history is any guide, no action will be taken by this set of elected officials, and if this group can’t get it done, we will need to elect others.
The most vehement argument for inaction on gun control frankly comes primarily from Republicans and centers on the second amendment.  But as with the first amendment, this right to bear arms is not absolute.  The first amendment has limitations when your right to speak puts my safety in jeopardy – most famously illustrated by the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s opinion in the United States Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States that you cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater.  Under the Constitution reasonable restrictions on the second amendment can be taken.  There was no constitutional crisis when Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law in 1993 and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994.  The Assault Weapon Ban was not reauthorized in 2004 under George W. Bush, and must be reinstated.
Where’s the action?  The Bush and Obama administrations took important steps to provide parity for mental healthcare in health insurance plans.  More needs to be done.  The tax bill and recent budget deal clearly demonstrates the federal government can get something done when it’s a priority. Reducing school shootings needs to become a priority.
It is not constructive to affix blame or motive, but we must insist upon results.  Protests are only part of the answer.  The 2017 Women’s March, at which some one million strong, seemed to have little impact in changing the conversation in Washington.  However, it had a profound effect in motivating new entrants into the political arena and activating voters to participate in elections.
It is here where we can all make a difference.  In 2018, we must become single-issue voters, and insist that candidates commit to gun control and mental health initiatives that will start to add some desperately needed federal threads to the security web begun by state and municipal governments and local school districts.  It is 19 years overdue.

Steven Cea lives in Nyack and is the Business Administrator/Board Secretary for the Paramus Public School District in Paramus, NJ.

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