(AP/Jason Decrow)

We've given up on saving our kids: This is our Sandy Hook anniversary shame

Three years after Sandy Hook, a young teacher laments that we're barely trying to keep students safe


Hayley DeSantis
December 15, 2015 5:00AM (UTC)

I remember my exact location when I heard about the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting. I had been working in a first-grade classroom, a few months into my internship, discovering my passion for educating and inspiring children. I found myself glued to the screen, my brain not able to communicate what I had witnessed. I remember crying, picturing in my mind the teachers cramming students into the small closets and hearing the screams.

After a moment, a great wave of realization washed over me. This could easily be my classroom, and it took less than a second to comprehend that I would certainly fight for my students in that situation. But I thought that I shouldn't have to make that decision; teachers shouldn't have to be armed with handguns to protect their students. Schools are created to be warm and secure environments where students blossom, not where young lives are suddenly cut off without a chance to grow to exceed expectations and bring change to the world.

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From my first experience with the aftermath of gun violence, I thought that less emphasis should be placed on the opinions of conservative officials and more concern regarding those directly involved and impacted by gun violence in their communities. From a future educator's perspective, more and more mass shootings now have teachers thinking and developing plans for protection for students. But is this really the solution to the current problem?

Melissa Duclos' Salon story “An Open Letter to Lawmakers, After Yet Another Mass Shooting” expresses a similar concern toward the way we handle and address these issues. Duclos explains that she has heard the protocol a thousand times: Teachers are told to fight back at an active shooter. But the reality is we are just teachers; when did these principles become part of our job requirements? Educational settings are being targeted more then ever for mass shootings, teachers and students are being prepared to face these dangers in the classroom, “to hide out of the line of fire, to fight for our survival -- because of lawmakers' failure to do their job.” Clearly these established protocols and requirements of teachers are not the way to solve the issue of mass shootings in schools; it's simply officials attempting to redirect a solution that won’t hurt their pockets and campaign revenue.

In America, more preschoolers are fatally shot each year than police officers are in the line of duty, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI. These daily mass shootings are becoming more normalized and simply accepted by the American people. Many feel defeated as each time the headlines announce yet again another mass shooting. We know the drill. There will be prayers, vigils, presidential appearances, and then ultimately the moment will pass. Silence is all that remains, and yet again, Americans are forced to reside in a society where the legislators and people in power fail to protect them, the government's most fundamental duty to its citizens. We live in a country that is founded on the idea of freedom and security, but instead of addressing the flaws and holes within our current gun laws and regulations, we seemingly accept this tragedy -- selling bulletproof backpacks and preparing our students in mass shooting simulations and drills.

This upsetting and predictable pattern is a vicious cycle that seems to never end and will never end unless gun control is strictly enforced and promoted across the country. We need to shift our focus of concern toward the preservation and value of life, rather than supporting the ownership of destructive weapons designed to take life away. In order to bring about this much needed and sought after change in our society we need to begin to first look at the current deteriorated state of our nation in relation to recent acts of gun violence.

The only feasible way to bring real change to the tragedies taking place all around us is to change the American psyche toward gun ownership and usage. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt explained a similar approach in “A Gun-Free Society," agreeing that the drastic change we wish to see regarding mass shootings is a matter of change in the culture and norms of society. He suggests that the incremental approach is not working; instead, we need to think reform rather than control, and this can be done if we have this cultural shift he discusses. He uses the example of same-sex marriage and the shift that has taken place over the past 15 years, that deep cultural change was difficult to ignite but, more important, it became possible. Overall we would end up with a much safer country, “There are strong arguments against setting a gun-free society as the goal, but there are 100,000 arguments in favor -- that's how many of us get shot every year.”

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This is not an easy task with a simple solution, for America’s obsession with guns has only grown since the establishment of the Second Amendment. The NRA is the hugest obstacle preventing the crucial changes that could lead to gun reform from happening, framing their arguments heavily on the U.S. Constitution, as well as ideas of freedom and the central assertion that owning guns makes people safer. Many who support anti-gun reform have a similar mind-set; the idea of change provokes this neurotic and obsessive nature. But Congress has clearly misread the Second Amendment, its purpose developed in 1787:  “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” During this time the U.S. did not have its own secure stable army; the Revolutionary War enabled colonies to create their own militias for protection. We do not need to bear arms in our modern society, especially given the fact that we have an extremely strong military.

President Obama had also concluded that there was a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in America. The current accessibility and presence of guns in our society has led to the haunting consequences of numerous mass shootings, suicides and accidental deaths every day.

As the NRA continues to act as the biggest obstacle to change in our society's perception of gun ownership and value of life, the rate of lives lost to gun violence is rapidly increasing each year. Since 2005, there have been 280,000 mass shootings here in America, and yet there are no real concrete changes being developed.

The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 20 times greater than in other high-income countries. The higher prevalence of gun ownership and much less restrictive gun laws are crucial reasons why our nation is facing a gun violence epidemic. Where are we going as a nation when shooting down innocent children is accepted and ignored?

Restricting ownership of military-style assault weapons is not only the common-sense step we can take as a nation to prevent further mass shootings from occurring. Universal background checks play a huge role in who operates, owns and sells these deadly weapons, and surprisingly this is one issue Americans mostly agree on.

Most important, these background checks need to be enforced heavily in concert with “private sales” of weapons in gun shows, the Internet, and news advertisements. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence explains this dire need, as "current federal law requires criminal background checks only for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, which account for just 60% of all gun sales in the United States.” Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, President Obama has attempted on several occasions to have Congress pass a federal law for universal background checks on all sales of firearms, but every time it is nixed due to the NRA’s political power.

As a prospective teacher, I find it extremely difficult to watch our nation grow more accustomed and numb to the increasing number of lives lost due to gun violence, in particular young students. No matter the obstacles the NRA or other anti-gun control supporters place in our path to success, change is possible -- beginning with the refusal to accept these tragedies as normal.


Hayley DeSantis

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