In 1990, the country took action to decrease the amount of gun violence present in schools across the nation by passing the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act originally part of the Crime Control Act. Now, a pending bill called the Safe Students Act, H.R. 34, proposes repealing prohibition of guns on school campuses and would threaten that protection. As pediatricians committed to improving children’s health and safety, we must help prevent this dangerous bill from becoming a law.
The Gun-Free School Zones Act was passed to address rising violence in schools across the country and was successful in decreasing school-associated student homicides. School-associated student homicide rates significantly decreased from 0.07 to 0.03 per 100,000 over 1992 to 2006. Some people are exempt from the prohibition to carry guns on school campuses.
The proposed Safe Students Act would allow adult citizens to carry guns on school grounds. This could include people who lack training in apprehending hostile individuals with automatic weapons. The bill would allow teachers and administrators to carry guns, professionals who generally are not trained to kill criminals. There is currently no language in the bill to guarantee that these potential gun-yielding staff would be required to have background checks or licensure to carry weapons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although homicide is the second leading cause of death among school-aged youths, only 1-2% of these homicides occur on school grounds, in transit to, or at a school-sponsored event. This should not downplay the horrific tragedies of recent mass shootings. However, keeping children safe from homicides may not be significantly achieved by passing this Safe Students Act. Allowing more guns on school campuses could increase the risk of violence because it would increase the risk of a child’s access to a gun, accidental injury, and even intentional injury by a perpetrator who gains access to a gun being lawfully carried.
The Safe Students Act would not guarantee the safety of our students. It may even put them at higher risk of injury and death. In the past, similar bills have been introduced in attempt to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act and none have ever been successful. As pediatricians aiming to keep all children safe and healthy, I implore you to contact your local federal representative and urge them to oppose this dangerous bill. I suggest that focus be turned toward limiting public access to automatic weapons, educating our children on the dangers of firearms, and stressing safe storage of legally owned personal weapons.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School-associated student homicides—United States, 1992–2006. MMWR2008;57(02):33–36.
- 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A) Unlawful Acts
- American Psychiatric Association, College Mental Health & Confidentiality 1 (June 2009). http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/ResourceDocuments/200905.aspx
- Students for Gun Free Schools. Fact Sheet, Why Our Campuses are Safer Without Concealed Handguns. http://www.studentsforgunfreeschools.org/SGFSWhyOurCampuses-Electronic.pdf
Camille Keenan, MD, MPH