Letter: We must act to prevent school shootings

Ten years ago, on Dec. 14, in the midst of the holiday season, parents of Sandy Hook Elementary students were bustling about, choosing gifts for their beloved children. However, instead of finding a good hiding place for the gifts until wrapping day, parents learned that their child was murdered along with 19 other children and seven adults with an AR-15. On the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, our efforts at enacting real gun legislation remain lukewarm. School shootings are at their highest on record and continue to rise. As of Oct. 31 there were 41 school shootings. 35 people have been killed, 29 of them children. An additional 88 have been injured. In 2022, death by firearms became the leading cause of death of children in the U.S.

A small start for change occurred this year with the signing of the Safer Communities Act. Among some of the modest accomplishments, the law provides for “investments in our nation’s mental health system.” Certainly, attentiveness to mental health in the U.S. is a major issue. However, the connection of mental illness to gun violence is a murky one. As a matter of fact, a National Institutes of Health Study in 2015 showed that mental illness contributes to less than 4% of any violent acts in the U.S. and the contribution to gun violence is even lower.

Risk of gun violence is instead correlated with a history of violent acts within the community. While some may argue that this “violence” may just be the mask hiding a mental illness, I would counter that these sorts of individuals are very unlikely to take advantage of any expansion in mental health care that the Safer Communities Act will offer.

Sadly, the tepid accomplishments of this act notably did not include background checks for people over age 21, assault weapons bans, limitation of large capacity magazines or federal red flag laws.

Keeping students at the forefront of violence prevention strategies is a key to success. The Say Something program, developed by Sandy Hook Promise, teaches middle and high school students to recognize the warning signs of someone at-risk of hurting themselves or others and how to say something to a trusted adult to get help. In four out of five school shootings, the attacker told people of their plans ahead of time.

Katie Perkins

Steamboat Springs

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