Schools are supposed to be one of the safest places for children in America. But on Friday, Dec. 14, a week before the holiday break for students, the nation’s view of safety in schools was shattered.
Twenty children, ages seven and under, and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a small town in Connecticut.
The 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, circumvented security measures, broke into the school and went on a rampage with weapons that included two handguns, a Glock 10mm, a Sig Sauer 9mmw and a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type weapon, according to reports.
The tragic incident reignited the national debate regarding gun control and whether new gun laws should be implemented in the United States. Youth, guns and violence has long been viewed as an “urban issue,” said Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams. The problem, however, affects all types of communities across the country, and needs to be addressed at the federal level, he said “Guns and ammunition are too readily available to youth in America. It’s a national pandemic,” Williams said.
“There should be restrictions on the amount of ammunitions a person can have at one given time, increased funding for law enforcement” to uphold current gun laws. According to a CNN report, Lanza mainly used on his murderous rampage the assault rifle, typically capable of firing at a rate of 45 rounds per minute in semi-automatic mode.
“Those weapons are military” standard, Williams said. “I can’t think of any reason those weapons should be (owned by civilians).” There is no hunting application, Williams said; they are designed to take human life. The police chief said the Clinton administration’s ban on assault weapons should be reinstated, and the “gun show loophole,” which allows unlicensed sellers at gun shows to sell guns without conducting a background check, should be closed.
At a recent town hall meeting sponsored by the Black Educators Caucus, community leaders and residents agreed that youths having access to guns has led to an increase in gun violence in local communities.
In South Florida, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have experienced devastating violence with youth and guns this year alone. Miami-Dade police reported that in November, 13-year-old Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus was shot and later died in Homestead, allegedly by another student, in front of her 7-year-old sister and several other students riding a school bus.
Two months earlier, at a Sweet 16 party at the Riviera Beach Marina, Antonio Hinds, 17, and Andy Joseph, 16, were shot to death allegedly by another party attendee, Rijkard Jean-Baptiste, 20.
In response to the Connecticut shootings, the Broward County School District sent a letter to parents and the community with information on how the schools are working to help students deal with the violence.
“School psychologists, school social workers and family counselors are ready to address the needs of students, families and staff,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said in the letter. “District school police, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and local municipal law enforcement are in close collaboration to monitor our schools. The safety of our students is our highest priority.”
Joseph Lee, an assistant superintendent with the Palm Beach County School District, said violence on school campuses and in neighborhoods is a challenge to curb.
“We have always had security procedures in place, that goes back to the Columbine” massacre, he said. “We are reviewing safety procedures regularly. We are required by law to have drills throughout the year.”
Lee said that the safety teams are very proactive in continuously reviewing and working to improve security measures. “The Palm Beach County School District is vigilant regarding our safety teams,” he said.
“We are working with the school police to have additional visibility, increasing patrols and working with outside law enforcement.”
Lee said the school system has tried to create a culture in which students understand that it is “OK” to talk to teachers, administration and other staff if they feel or know of someone else who feels unsafe. “We let them know that school is still one of the safest places (for children). The Connecticut shootings is a rare occurrence.”
Lee said safety procedures are firmly in place, but he is not sure what could have been done differently concerning the tragedy in Connecticut. “There are procedures in place that we are going to follow to ensure students’ safety but I don’t know what else could have been done to prevent something like (that),” he said. “This was a psychotic act” of violence.
Williams said the problem of youth with guns has been an ongoing issue. “Urban mayors and police chiefs have said this was a problem for years and maybe now we’ll (see some changes) in order to keep our communities safe,” he said.