“For decades, we’ve treated gun violence as a battle to be won rather than a problem to be solved.” – Nicholas Kristof
And so here we are, five years beyond Parkland, the afternoon that brought the impact of school shootings from a professional concern to one that impacted my family on a deeply personal level. There are too many families that have received the phone calls and text messages alerting them to an active shooter in their loved ones school. Here is my sister’s account of the one she received from my niece, Carly: The Relentless School Nurse: The Text Message No Parent Wants to Get – An Active Shooter is at School
In the years since Parkland, the need to focus on solutions have fueled my efforts to focus on school safety. The good news is that many other healthcare professionals are working in the space of gun violence prevention, research, and legislation. Through the powerful platform of social media, I have been fortunate to connect with leaders in this movement and work across sectors to bring the message of solving gun violence through a public health approach. We have used the same approach, an investment in research to reduce harm and protect people. Think about how far we have come in decreasing deaths and injuries from motor vehicle accidents, treating HIV, traumatic brain injury, drownings and more. These life threatening and life altering events have had research dollars invested to meet the enormity of their impact. But not gun violence… As a result, gun violence is now the leading cause of death of children and youth.
The work does not rest, the urgency to understand the science to prevent gun violence will lead us to evidence-based interventions that will save lives. We must know what the science says in order to properly address a cure for the violence that has infected our country. Stamina and the relentless pursuit of understanding the root cause of gun violence will lead to research-driven solutions. There is a groundswell of support to embrace the concept that gun violence prevention belongs in the public health arena. The time is ripe to fund research that will inform practice to keep our communities safe. There is a sense of urgency that will not be dampened by political opposition or inaction.
Gun safety and safe storage are the platforms that I find have the most immediate actionable impact on school safety. Providing resources to prevent violence is a step in an upstream direction that is grounded in public health principles. Providing families with both education and equipment to lock up guns separate from ammunition without asking probing and invasive questions is reducing harm. We can change the scenario of an unlocked and loaded weapon getting into the hands of a child or young person who may in either a moment of desperation, anger, self-destruction, or taking their own or someone else’s life. We cannot undo a tragedy, but we can most certainly do everything in our power to prevent one.
I do this work to honor my father’s memory and in the hope that we can change the conversation from gun control to gun safety. Reducing violence, supporting safe school environments where children can not only learn, but flourish is the overarching goal. Reclaiming safe public and private spaces, including the hallways, classrooms, parking lots, playgrounds, and sports fields of our nations’ schools is the focus. Repairing ruptured relationships, reclaiming school as a healing centered partnership with the community where parents, school staff, school boards and the surrounding neighborhoods can work in unison to protect our children from harm is top of mind.
In the meantime, while these lofty, but attainable goals come to fruition, let’s focus on centering all decisions on keeping our children and youth safe. The level of violence we are currently accepting can never be normalized. Gun violence is preventable and predictable, not inevitable.