Mike Kennedy Smaller

Editor's Focus: School Shootings

April 13, 2023

I began to write this column about schools and guns, but it seemed that before I could get even a few paragraphs completed, a new case would grab the headlines. The sheer volume of shootings may numb people to the seeming inevitability of school violence, but some incidents still have the capacity to shock.

Less than a week into the new year, the notions of what was unthinkable were shattered by the latest episode of school violence. A 6-year-old boy in Newport News, Va., brought a gun into his first-grade classroom and seriously wounded his teacher by shooting her in the left hand and chest.

Then, in February, at Michigan State University, my alma mater, a gunman carried out attacks at the Berkey Hall classroom building and the Student Union, two places where I had spent many hours as an undergraduate. Three students were killed and five were injured; the gunman, who had no known connection to the university, took his own life a few hours later.

Now I am writing this a day after two administrators at a Denver high school were shot and wounded by a student who was on probation for a weapons charge and had transferred to the Denver school after being expelled from a school in Aurora, Colo. The administrators were shot after they discovered the gun during their daily search of the student, which was required because of his past behavior. The student died by suicide later in the day.

Sadly, this list of school shootings could go on. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group formed after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012, says that since 2013, there have been at least 1,055 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the United States; 346 people have died, and 747 have been wounded.

Attempts to address school violence by arming teachers or administrators seem misguided or dangerous. A superintendent in a Texas district who was regularly armed with a gun while at school resigned in February after it was revealed that he left his gun unattended in a school bathroom, where it was found by a third-grader.

What makes more sense are the steps supported by Everytown for Fun Safety: empowering teachers and law enforcement to intervene if students show warning signs, improving schools’ physical security in a targeted way, and keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

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