Summary: Safe Zone / April 7, 2018

Last weekend we gathered on UT campus to talk about a troubling and long standing problem occurring in our schools: The issue of gun violence. 

We had the opportunity to hear from wonderful speakers and representatives from Texas Gun Sense, Black Lives Matter Austin, Moms Demand Action, Austin Justice Coalition and advocates, Stephanie Martin (an educator) and high school student, Shraddha Joshi.   

As we go forward in the debate on how to make our school environments safer for children in Texas, we gave focus to some key concerns. 

Texas already has a high rate of children killed or injured each year by guns just in general and much of this could be correlated back to ease of access.  Add to that, our teachers, and public education in Texas, are strapped enough without factoring in the possibility of expanding programs that would arm more school districts across the state (programs like School Marshal). 
And while we can acknowledge that policies like the School Marshal program might be useful in more rural areas of the state, this might not translate as effectively to larger urban areas.  This could give some credence to the idea that "firearm localism" can be an effective stalemate breaker in the ongoing struggle between left vs. right wing politics on gun control issues but Texas has broad preemption laws that make changes tailored to communities difficult.  
** Though organizations like Moms Demand Action and Texas Gun Sense have seen some local and state level success in policy shifts and continue to work where they can.  (Learn how you can get involved HERE and HERE.) 

We also discussed increasing police presence on campuses and the issues at play with such proposals.  As some of the highest officials in Washington have called for returns to more punitive approaches to discipline, it's critical that we remember that statistically, such approaches have not always thwarted instances of gun violence.  They have, however, certainly helped funnel the school to prison pipeline.  And no students suffer more under this approach than students of color, often times for minor infractions no more frequent than those committed by their white peers.  Too often caught up in this cycle too are students with special needs.   

Additionally, we cannot create policies around tackling school gun violence without also examining the way other forms of gun violence come into play, as was also discussed last Saturday.  Police gun violence, domestic abuse (which is so deeply apart of gun violence), suicide, gun violence against our transgender community, and so many others.  
With regards to gun violence at the hands of law enforcement (who are well trained with firearms), the many instances of senseless loss of life are alarming to members of the school community who feel that arming more school districts in Texas could just create more safety concerns for students and black and brown students in particular.  That an armed black teacher could be at increased risk should the day come where he/she is engaging with an active shooter and first responders arriving on the scene. 

And while many teachers across the nation are starting to take on training to treat a gun wound and have been developing their classroom lockdown strategies, what we believe would have the most impact is common sense, evidence based gun legislation.  Laws that have the capacity to protect not just responsible Texas gun owners, but our children as well. 

As we head into the midterms, remember to ask where your candidate stands on these matters.  Get them on the record.  Get your school board officials on the record as well.  Take a look at where your current lawmakers have stood on these issues in the past.  How have they voted on smart gun legislation?  This is public information.  Gun violence needs to be a public health concern not a left vs. right issue.  We owe it to each other to make sure that the inaction of Congress and state legislatures who refuse to address this problem is not coming at a price that we're asking our children and our teachers to pay. 

Our suggested reading and resource references: