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Jennifer Horn: Walkouts should start a conversation about school safety

March 20. 2018 11:07PM

Last Wednesday, tens of thousands of students across the country walked out of class to protest gun violence in American schools. Inspired by the horrific events in Parkland, Fla., that took the lives of 17 innocent people, the walkouts were a combination of memorial and protest, emotional catharsis and angry release. In New Hampshire, where the emphasis seemed to be primarily on remembering and honoring lives lost, hundreds of young people participated.

Reaction to the actions of these students, many within just months of being able to cast their first vote, has been mixed. One lawmaker in Florida, in a speech from the floor of the Florida House, referred to the students as children and equated their efforts to asking legislators to pass a law banning homework. In Ohio, one student who was not comfortable joining the walkout or the students opposing it, was suspended for simply staying in his seat in his classroom. Students in other parts of the country were suspended for walking out. Some in California turned their free speech protest into a violent mini-riot.

Liberal gun control groups were behind the walkouts, and have tried to use these students to advance their own political agenda, but the students’ frustration and fear is real.

These young people are the first generation to grow up anticipating violence in their schools. Students today are trained on active shooter protocol. The federal government has produced an “active shooter pocket card.” School drills are no longer limited to fire; they now include practicing how to respond if a classmate starts shooting at you.

Their childhoods have been framed, to some degree, by the rise of the school shooter phenomenon, and adults who have the ability to make meaningful change have failed to do so. They are frightened, frustrated, and have been moved to action. We should listen to these young people, comfort them, and take seriously their commitment to making schools safer. This does not mean substituting their political judgment for our own, but we should commit ourselves to changing the environment in which our children are educated.

School violence is an incredibly complex problem, which will require more than a conversation about gun policy. In the case of Parkland, there were multiple missed opportunities for school and law enforcement officials to take action before this happened. The shooter was an emotionally unstable, aggressive, dangerous individual who was known to be a threat and every level of security put in place to protect the community from such a tragedy failed, including the FBI, local law enforcement, mental health providers, and the school itself.

Focusing entirely on guns doesn’t address the actual, core problem — young people who are so broken that they believe that violence and death are the only answers. This does not excuse any act of violence, but if there is a way to prevent them from becoming shooters in the first place, we should look for it. That means looking at the problem in its entirety: mental health, political correctness run amok, policy issues, the protections offered by the Bill of Rights, and a digital culture that breaks down the real connections between us.

Last week’s student walkouts should start an honest conversation. Real change only happens when people engage with each other with a willingness to listen, consider, and compromise.

If today’s students are going to lead our nation in the future, they must be willing and able to engage in a comprehensive conversation about every aspect of what leads to violence in our schools. Whether or not they are able or willing to do so remains to be seen, but if we are to be successful at changing the culture of violence in our schools, we must listen to their voices and embrace their participation in the process.

Nashua’s Jennifer Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and is active in political and civic affairs.

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