Labor Voices: We must stop watching and start acting to protect our kids

We all watched in horror the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 26 people, including 20 first-graders — precious kids with their whole lives in front of them — were murdered in a hail of bullets.

Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / Getty Images

A few years later, we watched what happened at Stoneman Douglas High School: 14 children and three school staff, shot to death in front of their friends, classmates and students.

We watched four kids murdered at Oxford High School here in Michigan just six months ago.

And now we have watched 19 elementary schoolers and two teachers shot to death last week at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

As a society, we have watched these school shootings happen, we have offered our thoughts and prayers, we have shared moments of silence, we’ve heard proposals for reducing gun violence in schools — and then we’ve moved on to other things.

We have been able to watch all this happen and go on living, as the number of schoolchildren literally torn apart by bullets has piled up.

How much longer can we watch these tragedies unfold and do nothing before we as Americans — including our elected leaders — come together on behalf of our children and take real action?

Every time this happens, we hear a variation of the same theme from too many politicians: “Let’s take time to grieve and not rush into anything.” But the fact is we can grieve and act. We must act, because our students deserve no less than commonsense gun safety reform and mental health support.

Here are just a few reforms that lawmakers in Lansing and Washington can pass to protect our kids from being the next school shooting victims:

  • Enact universal background checks and increased penalties for falsifying information on firearm licensing applications.
  • Increase penalties for firearms dealers who knowingly sell a firearm intended for a minor, as well as for adults who provide minors with access to firearms.
  • Enact “red flag laws” to prevent access to firearms for those most at risk of harming themselves or others.
  • Allow school districts to make their buildings gun-free zones.
  • Pass laws requiring secure firearm storage for gun owners.
  • Provide school districts with the resources they need to hire additional school counselors and psychologists, so they can address student mental health and identify potential issues — before it is too late.

These are not radical ideas. They are basic, commonsense proposals that reasonable people should be able to get behind. We must stop watching and instead start acting.

I will always remember watching on TV as small children streamed out of Sandy Hook Elementary, and I will always remember the confused, terrified looks on their faces.

I will always remember what happened six months ago at Oxford High School, as our union’s members put their lives on the line to save countless students. I will remember the survivors walking out of that school at noon last Thursday to honor the latest victims of gun violence in our schools — another 19 precious kids and two teachers violently robbed of their futures by a disturbed gunman.

Across our nation, regardless of our own background or politics, we are grieving together for the victims in Uvalde. Our leaders in Washington and Lansing can and should grieve, too. But they should also — with the memories of those children and teachers in their hearts — finally take action to stem gun violence in our schools.

Lawmakers must demonstrate the same courage shown by educators and students across the country, and pass commonsense laws to protect our children.

And if they don’t, we will remember that too.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

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