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There’s merit to arming teachers — with gun safety curricula

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June allots $250 million for community mental health services. It would be a win if a portion went to early intervention and mental health assessment programs

In the aftermath of two horrific gun massacres came two very different responses to what might have caused them and how to stop them in the future.

After the elementary school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, conservative lawmakers and pundits once again rushed to claim that guns are not to blame for mass killings. The problem isn’t easy access to guns, they tell us, it’s that there is a national mental health crisis that can somehow be resolved by arming teachers and “hardening” schools.

The notion that the murder of our children in their classrooms can be prevented by putting more guns in our schools is insane. Nevertheless, legislators in Louisiana and Ohio rushed to take steps to relax laws that would allow arming teachers in their states.

A different response reported in the Forward came from psychiatrist Marc Slutsky days after the July 4 gun murders in Highland Park, Illinois, his hometown. He too labeled mental health as a major factor, but said the failure in that case may have been that the suspect was removed from public high school by his parents after teachers identified his maladjustment issues.

We need our teachers to discuss guns with our children, in a classroom where a mental health professional is sitting in. Together, they will listen to their ideas about guns, evaluate their engagement and report any potential red flags before they become breaking news headlines.

Slutsky identifies the problem. As for the solution, while it’s impossible for me to imagine how arming teachers can lead to reduced school shootings and safer classrooms, I actually think that advocates of unregulated gun ownership might be onto something.

I think that early intervention in the classroom can be a solution to America’s gun violence problem. It’s time for us to add a new subject in our schools: firearm education and safety.

We need our teachers to discuss guns with our children, in a classroom where a mental health professional is sitting in. Together, they will listen to their ideas about guns, evaluate their engagement and report any potential red flags before they become breaking news headlines.

Imagine having advance warning of a teen who is being influenced by white supremacist websites or other media. Imagine knowing what they think about guns, and maybe even the people who have used them.

Consider what we could do if we had an early warning that someone was struggling to differentiate between video game violence and real-life violence.

How valuable would it be to get advance notice about kids who have little to no empathy for others, or who are being isolated and even bullied?

Our hope lies not in singling these children out, but in discreetly evaluating these issues and quietly recommending parents commit to working with therapists, teachers and the school district to remedy early signs of mental distress.

Aren’t our children worth that?

Gun violence in America is a public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, guns are the No. 1 killer of children and adolescents in the U.S.

Time and again, our paralyzed political system has proven itself unwilling and unable to take any measures to bring about an end to this crisis. As long as the National Rifle Association’s stranglehold over Republican politicians ensures that no truly effective gun legislation will become law – aside from watered-down efforts like the bipartisan bill passed in June – we must seek solutions elsewhere.

Once upon a time, we addressed America’s societal problems through education. There was a notion that if children were educated into or out of certain behaviors and norms, they would eventually grow up to become better citizens. And so, we expanded schools’ curricula to include drivers education, sex education and health classes focusing on the dangers of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

The answer to reducing vehicular fatalities wasn’t putting more cars on the street, and the answer to teen pregnancy and rising STDs wasn’t to get more kids to have sex. So how can the answer to gun violence in schools be to introduce more guns?

The passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June is proof that there are still some things that Congress and the rest of us can agree on. In the bill there is $250 million in block grants set aside for community mental health services. And another $140 million was set aside for the training of pediatric mental health providers.

It would be a win for all of us if a portion of those funds went to early intervention and mental health assessment programs.

Teachers are mandated reporters of the state. They are with our children nearly as much as parents are. They know our children. That’s why we trust them to make certain educational recommendations, teach our children to drive and talk with them about sensitive subjects like sex. We trust them with our children. That is why we have to trust them now to talk with our children about guns and listen to them when they recommend counseling or other kinds of support that our children may need.

It could literally be the difference between saving a lot of lives or causing a lot of deaths.

Sometimes we can’t just legislate our way out of problems, we have to educate our way out of them. And the only thing we should be arming teachers with is the freedom to teach.

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