Keeping our children safe | Editorial

Once again, this nation grieves for its children, gunned down while they were in class. This time it was 19, before that it was four, and in 2012, a shooter killed 20 first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary school. There have been 200 mass shootings in this county so far this year, and it is only May.

A few years ago, Friday Harbor High School and the San Juan Island School District were on high alert, superintendent Fred Woods said, in response to an individual of concern. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office kept the schools secure for two full days. Woods credits the sheriff’s office for being able to successfully and safely navigate the situation.

To prevent the unthinkable, the San Juan Island School District has a crisis and safety policy which can be found on its website. That policy is reviewed with school employees annually. Woods also said he will be meeting with the sheriff to go over the policy.

During COVID, the school buildings were locked and, Woods said, that will continue to be the case. Currently, the public is buzzed in, they go straight to the main office where they sign in and are given a visitors pass. Cameras will be installed soon at the entrances making it easier to see comings and goings, according to Woods.

“We try to take steps to maintain safety,” he said. “We are committed to the well-being of the children. We aren’t perfect, which is why we want to continue to evaluate our crisis and safety policy.”

With new information providing better methods to handle security and safety concerns, annual or bi-annual reviews are not only beneficial but could save lives.

Like many of us, Woods said he was speechless and heartbroken at the news of a yet another rural town shattered by gun violence. As a parent of a son who is now a teacher, Woods said, he struggles.

While our local school districts are working hard to provide a safe learning environment for our children, nationally, it should not be this difficult. We are the only country in the world that has this problem, at least to this degree.

Still, school shootings are not new in this country. One of the earliest mass school shootings on record was in 1891 when a 70-year-old named James Foster fired a shotgun into a group of students. Several sustained minor injuries, but none died.

Flash forward, and things become more deadly. In August 1966, Charles Whitman climbed up an observation deck at the University of Texas. He killed 16 and wounded 31 in a shooting rampage that lasted 96 minutes. A few months later, Bob Smith took seven people, hostage, at Roa Mar College of Beauty in Mesa, Arizona. Smith killed four women and a three-year-old girl. After his arrest, Smith said he admired Whitman.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of 2012 is the deadliest elementary shooting. Twenty children were lost that day and six adults. That makes this recent school shooting the second deadliest.

There are steps that can be taken, some even without added gun control.

In an interview with NPR, Daniel Webster with John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center discussed two policies that their studies show have real impact.

One was banning high-capacity magazines. Their 30 years of research showed that states which banned high-capacity magazines had fewer mass shootings and there were fewer deaths in those mass shootings. The other was requiring gun purchasers to go through a licensing process. Licencing could mean directly applying with law enforcement and taking safety training or similar requirements.

What did not help, they discovered, were policies making it easier for people to carry guns so they can defend themselves. “If anything, it shows higher rates of fatal mass shootings in response to weaker regulations for concealed carry by civilians.”

In fact, encouraging more guns and arming teachers has been found to create unsafe environments, cause an increase in students dropping out of school, and police have a harder time responding, figuring out who the bad guy is when everyone is shooting.

So let’s not pretend we can make our schools safer by adding more guns, or that solutions are not available.

Before one more child dies due to gun violence, let’s work together as a community and a nation for real solutions and make it easier for our own local schools to keep our children safe.