Blame school shootings on anything and everything, just don’t talk about guns. That was the unstated theme of Tuesday’s “listening session” in Lexington organized by the new Federal Commission on School Safety.
President Donald Trump created the commission in March after 17 students and faculty were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The commission is composed of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and three other Trump cabinet members.
This was the second of five planned listening sessions, and it included a variety of officials from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana. None of the commission members attended, sending assistants in their place.
Under questioning from Congress earlier this month, DeVos said the commission would not focus on the role guns play in school violence. And that was certainly the case Tuesday, especially when Gov. Matt Bevin had the microphone.
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Bevin first blamed Kentucky lawmakers for not advancing school safety legislation this session, although he said legislation is in the works. He also blamed the news media for reporting facts about school shootings — “celebrating it,” in his words. He thought journalists shouldn’t identify shooters, demonstrating once again that he has no clue about the role of journalism in a free, informed society.
At one point, Bevin whipped out his cell phone, saying, “This is a very, very, very dangerous tool in the hands of young people.” He called cell phones a “significant contributor” to teen depression and suicidal thoughts.
Bevin’s comments about cell phones drew pushback from Tonette Walker, the wife of Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker, who was part of one panel. “The root of the problem is adverse childhood experiences,” she countered.
Bevin blamed video games, movies and television for desensitizing society to gratuitous violence. He also cited the over-prescribing of psychotropic drugs to children. Not once did he mention firearms.
I agree with Bevin that far too many children are on psychotropic drugs, and those drugs are causing more problems than they solve. I also share some of his concerns about video games, movies and television shows that glorify violence.
But to rant about cell phones while never mentioning guns is ridiculous. Firearms have killed 141 people and injured 287 at 217 schools since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, according to a recent count by The Washington Post. Has anyone in a school ever been killed with a cell phone?
Dozens of factors contribute to school shootings. But nobody wanted to talk about the easy access to weapons that make these shootings possible. Nobody, that is, until the politicians, bureaucrats and hand-picked panelists stopped talking and took comments from the public, including parents, students and teachers.
Cherie Dimar, president of the Kentucky PTA, said her organization advocates common-sense gun control laws and removing bans on gun violence research.
Emmy Sippy, a member of the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team, quoted fellow high school students’ concerns about gun culture and easy access to firearms, including a survivor of the deadly Marshall County High School shooting in January.
“Give us common-sense gun control,” said Willow Hambrick, who said she recently retired after 21 years as a middle school teacher. “That includes a ban on assault weapons and bump stocks, banning bullets whose only purpose is mass calamity and laws that force parents to lock up their guns. Statistics show that most of these students are getting their guns from a cabinet at home.
“We need you all to become profiles in courage,” Hambrick added. “To stand against the tide of the gun lobby and keep the real intent of the Second Amendment intact.”
The listening session included a lot of good discussion about mental health, school resources, education funding, drugs, family trauma, security procedures and other important issues related to school safety.
But until politicians and bureaucrats are willing to address the elephant in the room — a society awash in firearms that troubled youth can easily get their hands on with tragic consequences — children will continue to be gunned down in school.