2014-12-11 / Opinion

Remembering Sandy Hook Helps Promote Safety

A nniversary remembrances should be of nice times andhappy events. But often that’s just not so. Sunday, Dec. 14, marks the two-year anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history—the massacre of 20 six- and seven-year-old students and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by a troubled 20-year-old shooter named Adam Lanza.

It would be nice to report that the horror of that grisly morning in Newtown has given way to a better, more peaceful era, especially around schools and other spots where children congregate. But according to an organization called Everytown for Gun Safety that has recorded every incidence of a firearm discharged inside a school building or on campus grounds, there have been at least 95 school shootings in 33 states since Sandy Hook. These include fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides and unintentional shootings.

As a nation, we continue to struggle to find a middle ground between the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees individual rights to keep and bear firearms and the seemingly—to some— sensible arguments favoring gun control.

Sandy Hook fueled gun control arguments for a while. Connecticut, New York and Maryland passed limited gun control measures in 2013. In the same year, the U.S. House passed a bill to ban assault rifles and expand background checks on gun purchases.

Both measures were defeated in the U.S. Senate.

The Rhode Island General Assembly responded to Sandy Hook by enacting a package of bills requiring:

. Lockdown and evacuation drills twice each school year—and once in cold weather— in all school buildings, including colleges as well as K-12.

. School safety plans to be reviewed by school committees and updated annually.

. School departments to conduct comprehensive safety assessments with local police, fire and school safety teams.

. A model school safety plan “based on the best practices in school safety planning.” State education officials are to “communicate the plan electronically to all school committees and school safety teams in the state.”

It’s not much, but at least it’s something.

The Sandy Hook tragedy also raised questions about whether better mental health programs might have helped the shooter and prevented the tragedy that he caused. (In addition to the 20 students and six adults, Lanza shot and killed his mother before he left home that morning. The shot he fired to kill himself was the last shot fired at the school).

According to U.S. News and World Report, five states, Rhode Island included, increased mental health spending in 2013. However, the publication reported, the Rhode Island legislature cut $33.6 million from mental health spending in 2014.

Jo Eva Gaines, Newport School Committee chair, said the city’s schools are following these state laws. “We do the lockdown drills,” she said. “We’re doing exactly what the laws require.” She noted that the drills are important for another reason. “As time goes on sometimes awareness slips. The drills help people to keep safety in mind.”

We agree that’s a good thing.

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