Truly safe schools are those that create a culture of connectedness and care for all the children and staff people in hallways, playgrounds, and classrooms. Extensive research has proven that having guns in schools only creates an appearance of safety, rather than real security. In their report of several years ago, federal law enforcement agencies found that violence is reduced in schools where trust is built through communication, not only in the school but in the community as well.
A Joint Issue Brief released in January 2013 by the Advancement Project, Alliance for Educational Justice, Dignity in Schools Campaign, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund gives a wide-ranging view of real school safety that protects and supports all children. The United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries was privileged to join over 50 organizations and 25 individuals in endorsing this comprehensive report.
Creating safe environments in schools is not new, but it does require an investment of public resources. Resources for nonviolent conflict resolution programs help children learn ways to solve their problems through dialogue rather than aggression. Programs that help persons renew their sense of trust through restorative justice measures have proven over the last several years to reduce repeated offenses and create community. The bottom line is that hostility is transformed into hospitality when students learn empathy and compassion.
Our hearts were broken open just a few months ago with the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Such massive acts of violence in schools, movie theaters, and malls bring us to our knees as a country. Regardless of when and where shootings happen, a senseless attack on an innocent child or young person is no less heart-breaking for their parents and loved ones.
This week, in anticipation of the debate on responsible gun laws, Congress will be inundated with wide-spread opinion about how to make our schools safe. For example, in a report released by the National Rifle Association, they call for teachers and other staff in schools to carry guns. It is absurd to expect that a gun-toting teacher will make a school safe. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to add this responsibility to an already over-burdened educator who was, first and foremost, trained to provide learning opportunities for our nation’s children and youth.
As they should be, safe schools are at the center of our consciousness in the gun law debate. But we must acknowledge that safe schools are an outgrowth of safe homes, safe neighborhoods, and safe communities. Now is the time for Congress finally to act and pass responsible gun legislation. If not now, when?
In addition to joining our partners mentioned above, we are connecting with millions of people of faith on April 9 for the Faiths Calling – Interfaith Call-In to Prevent Gun Violence. Please call 1-888-897-0174 for more complete information or go to www.faithscalling.org. We can and must transform our grief into action.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.