I was against gun safety classes in schools. Newport News, Va., shooting changed my mind.
Parents have been traumatized by an increase in the prevalence of school shootings over the past decade, with gun violence now being the leading cause of death in children. We drop our children off at school and hope for the best, each day.
Adults with semi-automatic rifles entering our school buildings constitutes an ongoing epidemic, but a recent incident in Virginia suggests that intruders are not the only concern when it comes to school shootings – and handguns within the home could pose a threat beyond its walls.
On Jan. 6, a 6-year-old in Newport News brought a gun to school and shot his teacher, intentionally, leaving her with life threatening injuries. The teacher’s lawyer indicated that in the hours prior to this event, school leaders were warned three times that the child may have a gun.
Administrators failed to follow up, and the student shot his teacher in the chest that afternoon. This incident rerouted my thoughts on mandatory gun safety education in schools – I’m no longer opposed to it.
Our kids can't live in a gun-free world
I am the mother who doesn’t allow toy guns in our home. Guns, to me, signify violence and death and I find them unnecessary in the hands of anyone other than police officers.
In my ideal world, guns wouldn’t exist, and the lives of countless children would have been saved. But that world is fictional and as much as I wish our children weren’t surrounded by weapons, gun laws aren’t changing fast enough to protect our children now. I see that I must alter my beliefs to fit the state of our country.
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About 4.6 million kids live with unlocked loaded guns. In 2020 alone, at least 125 children ages 5 and under shot themselves or someone else.
Just last month, an 11-year-old boy was accidentally and fatally shot by his younger brother while visiting relatives in Allentown, Pennsylvania – one of many lives taken by an accidental gun shot.
There are children with loaded weapons at their disposal but lacking basic knowledge of gun safety. These children and their immediate surroundings are at risk, but gun violence can also extend beyond the home and into the greater community as evidenced by what happened in Newport News.
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As a mother who acknowledges the risk of sending my children to school each day – as a parent who wrote a letter to President Joe Biden last year, pleading for gun law reform, and as a writer who is exhausted from shouting pleas into what feels like the abyss – I urge gun owners to consider the children in their communities.
Parents who own guns have a responsibility to secure their weapons and educate their children, but perhaps the government can play a role, too.
What government can do
Some government officials are suggesting we educate our children about gun safety at school. Last year, the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill that requires a National Rifle Association gun safety course for middle and high school students. All Arizona schools are required to teach students about firearms safety at least once between sixth grade and the end of high school.
Instruction is only required on gun safety, and the legislation prevents instruction that would teach children how to fire guns or hunt – a detail that urged me to reconsider my stance.
Initially, I was opposed to my children receiving gun safety education in school because I’d rather remove guns from our world than mold my children to a world with guns. I cringe if my children use their hands to motion the spray of bullets during imaginative play – learning about guns from their educators once seemed to negate everything I taught at home. But while we hope our children won’t use drugs or have sex at a young age, we still provide them with the knowledge needed to make these safe decisions – in fact, we educate them in hopes they’ll reach an understanding on their own.
Why should gun safety be any different?
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I wish a gun safety curriculum weren’t necessary, but I now see why it is. While I maintain the notion that urgent gun law reform is imperative, gun safety education targets one slice of the problem as we push for further change. A bill requiring gun safety education in schools will educate children, like the 6-year-old in Newport News, living with loaded guns – those who might not be receiving the necessary information at home.
This education may help to decrease accidental injuries and death by household firearms, and it could prepare children to better handle the emergency of a gun finding its way into the classroom. Perhaps this education should begin earlier, in the elementary years, so that children are having a more ongoing, gradual exposure to this vital topic.
I once shuddered at the thought of my children absorbing a lesson on guns at school, but after the incident in Newport News, Virginia, the potential benefit of this curriculum is apparent. With a focus on gun safety and not on gun use, I now see this education in schools as a necessary steppingstone – one of many in the right direction for our youth.
If we won’t put our children first, we need to teach them to put themselves first.
Lindsay Karp is a freelance writer with a background in speech-language pathology. She writes about parenting, life with multiple sclerosis and also hopes to become a published children’s book author.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Newport News school shooting convinced me: Teach all kids gun safety