When the number of American students killed in schools this year outnumbers the number of American soldiers killed in war, these are drastic times.
When the number of Americans killed by guns in the last 50 years outnumbers the number of Americans killed in all wars in America’s entire history, these are drastic times.
As the old saying goes, drastic times call for drastic measures, which is why I sent out a tweet last week after the school shooting in Texas that claimed 10 lives suggesting that parents consider pulling their kids out of school until Congress passes gun safety laws. My friend and colleague Arne Duncan, the former U.S. secretary of education, retweeted and it went viral.
This comes just a few months after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, prompting massive student marches and zero action from Congress.
The fact is, Congress has ignored the public will on this issue despite horrific massacres in schools, churches, outdoor concerts, nightclubs and other places where people gather. The gun lobby is simply too powerful and the politicians are too cowardly.
So, could a parent-driven boycott work — even if it was just a day or a week or two weeks in the fall, just before the midterm elections? Would Congress get the message and do something? Or would we continue to have unproductive debates about every other factor driving gun violence besides easy access to guns?
No one denies that mental health is an issue for some of these shooters, but mental health is generally not fatal to other people unless guns are in the equation. Few of us are arguing against beefing up school security measures, but the schools in the last two mass shootings – Parkland and Santa Fe — had armed guards. It wasn’t enough.
There aren’t enough police in the world to protect schools, stores, churches, parks and other public gathering places. The notion that armed citizens will discourage people bent on mass violence is false. Texas and Florida have millions of armed citizens and concealed-carry laws gun laws. It made no difference to Nikolas Cruz and Dimitrios Pagourtzis.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of what could go wrong if we begin arming teachers. An everyday school fight could escalate to shooting. A student could steal a teacher’s gun and use it to settle a score. Police could show up at an active shooter situation and end up accidentally killing an armed teacher.
If millions of parents, especially those living in swing districts where politicians who oppose gun control are at risk of losing their seats, decided to pull their kids out of school on the first day after Labor Day and took a stand, Congress just might act. At a minimum, it would send a message that gun safety is a voting issue and with the midterms right around the corner, the politicians would start paying attention.
Obviously, some parents would not participate, either because they can’t due to work obligations or because they don’t agree with policies restricting gun access. Every parent must make their own decision.
Teachers and other school employees also have a stake in the outcome. If a boycott happens, I would encourage teachers and other school personnel to come into work to serve the kids who come into school.
But parents are the key. Parents are the voters, they have the power and the incentive. No parent, including a gun-owner, wants to live with the fear that their child’s life is at risk.
School is supposed to be a safe place for children and for many it is. But school shootings are taking a psychological toll on children all across America. Gun safety laws won’t eliminate all shootings but they are a needed step in the right direction.
Peter Cunningham is the executive director of Education Post and former assistant secretary of Education in the Obama Administration.
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