Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2018

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Sun Editorial:

The kids seem to understand: It’s not just about making schools safer

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Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel / AP

Students are greeted by law enforcement as they head back to school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Parkland, Fla.

For Americans who have despaired over the nation’s inability to address our epidemic of gun violence, the high school students in Florida and across the country who have stepped up in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting are a source of inspiration.

With their dignity, eloquence and compassion, they’ve pushed the debate on guns into a higher orbit and have prompted promising steps toward establishing greater gun safety in the United States, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods discontinuing sales of assault-style rifles and Walmart announcing it would no longer sell weapons to people younger than 21.

Finally, there’s been a reaction consisting of more than offering thoughts and prayers, and the youths who pushed for it deserve every bit of praise they’re receiving.

But not all Americans are listening to them — at least not to their full message.

Although the students are advocating for gun safety measures that would protect all Americans, too much of the national debate is focusing on school safety as opposed to the broader problem.

Not that school safety isn’t important. It most definitely is, and we should be talking about ways to eliminate — not just reduce, but eliminate — gun violence in schools.

But a huge part of making schools safer is to rein in the type of weaponry behind shootings occurring in other environments, like churches, nightclubs and the festival grounds across Las Vegas Boulevard from Mandalay Bay.

It’s time for a ban on guns based on those used on battlefields. It’s time for a ban on high-capacity magazines holding bullets designed to inflict maximum damage on the bodies of soldiers — to incapacitate them virtually wherever the high-velocity slug hits the body. It’s time for a ban on bump stocks and tracer bullets, and to institute universal background checks on weapon sales, including those between private individuals at gun shows.

Finally, it’s time to reject outrageous National Rifle Association proposals that would make armor-piercing bullets more readily available and would require states to recognize the concealed carry laws of other states even if those laws were irresponsibly lax.

Schools will be safer if we’re all safer.

Will banning what amounts to machine-guns solve the gun violence epidemic? No, not by itself, which is why it’s fine to discuss reasonable measures to make schools safer.

Notice that word — reasonable. The idea of arming teachers does not meet that description.

Solving gun violence in schools with more guns is problematic on a number of levels, notably that guns can be misplaced and end up in the hands of students. And why should we force teachers, on top of everything else we expect of them, to make life-or-death decisions? That’s difficult even for well-trained and experienced law enforcement officers.

No, arming teachers is a distraction. It’s yet another NRA “solution” that actually just involves adding more guns to a country already glutted with them. What it’s really aimed at protecting is the sales revenue for the firearms manufacturers that fund the NRA.

The real solution, which the high schoolers have so wisely identified, lies in reining in the kind of firepower that can allow one person to legally obtain weaponry capable of ending dozens of lives and injuring hundreds of people in minutes.

This doesn’t involve other types of guns. Handguns, shotguns and even semiautomatic rifles with small magazines aren’t the common thread between these mass shootings. Assault rifles with high-capacity clips are.

There’s no slippery slope here: We need to ban mass-casualty weapons, just as we’ve for years had prohibitions of civilian ownership of machine guns and hand grenades.

So that’s where the focus of the debate should lie. It’s fine to include school safety in the conversation, but as the young advocates know, addressing the epidemic involves changing broader gun policy.