Lawmakers should heed Parkland students’ call for reform

It's time to pass sensible gun control measures

AS PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS, we are united by our deeply held commitment to the health, wellness, and safety of our students.

That commitment encompasses our shared belief that students should not have to live in fear of losing their lives or watching friends die because elected leaders refuse to protect them.

While Massachusetts has been a leader on gun safety, the Boston Teachers Union affirmed at our most recent citywide membership meeting that much more still needs to be done — and we must continue to lead while the inaction of Congress leaves our students, teachers, and schools vulnerable.

The BTU voted unanimously to endorse the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and their legislative agenda, becoming the first teachers union in the state to do so. The fact that the Parkland school shooting occurred the same day that we were scheduled to take that vote was a painful affirmation of our need to join.

The coalition, founded in 2013 after the Sandy Hook massacre, brings together organizations and institutions from across Massachusetts to address the epidemic of gun violence. In unity with the courageous Stoneham Douglas High School students who have already organized to demand meaningful and sustainable change on gun violence, we, in Massachusetts, must also ensure our children and the community at large remain safe.

It is time to stand up in truly organized opposition to the NRA and the gun lobby in every state, including in Massachusetts, and to demand action. Our mission to serve and enrich the lives of our students can no longer be divorced from the need to end gun violence. Around the country, elected leaders and the NRA have failed our children by refusing to embrace basic, common sense reforms that would help to curb school shootings and community violence.

On a state level, that includes passing H.3081, An Act Establishing Extreme Risk Protective Orders, which establishes a civil procedure for removing guns from people who pose a significant danger of causing physical harm to themselves or others. We must also ensure our Legislature passes S.1292, An Act Relative to Data Collection on Multiple Gun Purchases. This bill aims to track illegal trafficking of firearms used in crime by gathering information and statistics relating to the number of multiple-gun purchases by one person and whether any were used in a crime, and analyzing data on whether licensees who purchased guns used in a crime purchased other guns that year.

More than 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings in the US since 20 children and six adults were slaughtered at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, a moment like no other in a neighboring state that should have been a clarion call for nationwide reforms.

Now, 17 more victims in Parkland, Florida, have been added to that list. This is a uniquely American problem, and it is a public health crisis impacting the lives, safety, and futures of students in every corner of our country. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are more than 300 million guns in the US, which means there is more than one gun for every citizen in this country.

Every time there is a mass shooting incident, Americans go through the same cycle: shock, sadness, demand for legislation, fierce opposition from the gun lobby — all followed by government inaction. This cycle cannot continue.

The Boston Teachers Union is proudly uniting with a growing number of religious, civic, labor, and community groups through the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence because the lives of our children are sacred and we will not stand idly by as these massacres continue.

Meanwhile, we must continue to strengthen and increase the emphasis that all school systems place on the social-emotional health and well-being of students. Schools everywhere that have cut back on social workers, psychologists, and guidance counselors — or which fail to meet the recommended ratios for these kinds of essential personnel — must be called upon restore and increase those resources as quickly and as vigorously as possible.

Violence begets violence, and we must ensure that we take every step necessary to provide the maximum level of school-based social and emotional supports to students who are experiencing violence at home and violence in the community. Arming teachers is not a solution.

We must do everything possible to keep our students safe as our society spirals forward with no common sense reforms to prevent further massacres like Parkland or Sandy Hook. Clearly, educators, students, and parents cannot count on the White House for leadership, as the president has shown no interest or ability in combatting or adequately acknowledging this epidemic. We can do better.

As union members, we know the importance of organizing, of getting out the vote. We lobby tirelessly in support of the public education resources our students need to thrive. We will continue to intentionally and directly channel that political know-how and experience towards supporting common sense gun control reforms. This is no longer a “social wedge” issue. This is a matter of public health and public safety that threatens the lives of those students entrusted to our care and protection.

We appeal to all, particularly our legislators, to heed the call of the Stoneham Douglas students and to step off the sidelines.  As educators, we must rise up to support our students, not just as individual activists but in a spirit of solidarity with each other and with the survivors and victims of these recurrent massacres to say enough is enough. We proudly support their inspiring call for common sense gun control legislation, and additionally, full staffing of school psychologists, nurses, and counselors to support social emotional learning in all of our schools.

Meet the Author

Jessica Tang

President, Boston Teachers Union
Join us in uniting with the coalitions and groups in our communities who are working to provide leadership and a path forward on this issue, a safer path away from the horrific and utterly preventable massacres we have seen unfold in school after school, in state after state, for far too long. #NeverAgain

Jessica Tang is president of the Boston Teachers Union.