Kids, Guns, and Getting Woke to School Security

Someone handing a handgun to a small child

Someone handing a handgun to a toddler with a pacifier
In 1999 Columbine was an anomaly, but within a decade, school shootings were becoming almost commonplace. Gun-toting students and former students have acted out their rage in places like Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde. But while school massacres continued to grab headlines, single-victim shootings have often flown under the media radar. Some confrontations were initiated by high school gang members, but increasingly gun violence in the classroom is being perpetrated by younger and younger children, and that brings me to the recent incident at Richneck Elementary school in Newport News, Virginia.

On Friday, January 6, 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner was conducting her first-grade class when a six-year-old male student pulled a 9mm semi-automatic Taurus handgun out of his backpack and deliberately shot her. The bullet went through her hand and into her chest. Though critically wounded, Zwerner managed to move the other students to safety while another school employee restrained the young shooter until police arrived. The gun, as it turns out, belonged to the boy’s mother who, despite her attorney’s denial, had not properly secured the weapon. Had she done so, her small, young son wouldn’t have had access to the gun. Speaking of that irresponsible woman, she later said that her son has a disability that requires a parent to be with the boy at school every day. But guess what? She wasn’t with him on the day of the shooting.

There’s a lot to unpack from this incident, and its impact on the national debate regarding everything from gun safety and parental responsibility, to the mainstreaming of mentally disabled children into traditional classrooms, to juvenile justice reforms. But rather than dwell on the Newport News shooting specifically, I want to focus on what is being done (and what should be done) to prevent such incidents in the future.

First of all, we must all recognize that what happened at Richneck Elementary is indicative of a growing trend in America. Noted researcher David Riedman recently told AP correspondents Ben Finley and Denise Lavoie that people are shot, or guns taken away, at schools “almost every day.” According to Riedman, there were 302 shootings on school property last year, and while he says he knows of only four cases where kids under age six have shot someone at school, that’s four too many. The fact is that more and more guns are showing up at schools these days, while the age of the students bringing those guns to school seems to be getting younger and younger. Despite this trend, local, state, and federal officials refuse to invest in comprehensive security measures at every school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as late as 2020, less than 2% of public elementary schools performed random metal detector checks on students. Meanwhile, only 2% of elementary schools required students to wear clear backpacks, and only 54% of those schools had security staff on-site once a week. Yet, every time I question elected officials about the need for metal detectors, security staff, electronically locking doors, and other devices, I’m given the same answer, “There’s just no money for that.”  Funny, but we can spend hundreds of billions of dollars in Ukraine, and billions more on pet projects of congresspersons, but there’s just no money that can be allocated to keep our kids safe in school. Politicians who spew that bilge aren’t just short-sighted, they are criminally negligent. Fortunately, the Newport News shooting has awakened some officials to the problem of school security. Virginia Delegate Mike Mullin, for example, is lobbying for state monies to make Richneck more secure. And, last week, the Newport News school board voted to place 90 walk-through metal detectors in schools across the district. Meanwhile, parents attending a recent public hearing have called for two security officers to be assigned to each elementary school.

Parents, teacher unions, politicians, and school board members in Newport News are to be commended for finally getting woke to the need for more security measures. Unfortunately, their enlightenment may not spur reforms across the country so long as eggheads like Amanda Nickerson have a say. Nickerson, a school psychology professor at State University of New York, Buffalo, told the AP, “Metal detectors and clear backpacks are more likely to cause young children to be fearful and feel criminalized.” Hey Amanda, go ask parents at Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde if they would have minded if their murdered children felt criminalized by metal detectors and clear backpacks.  

Yes, there will be a significant cost involved in making every school safe. It will cost money to install metal detectors and electronic locking doors. It will cost money to hire additional officers. And it will cost money to supply clear backpacks for children who can’t afford them. But we’re the richest nation in the world, and we can find the money if we want to. Otherwise, we’ll continue to put our children at risk, and while we argue about the price of security, some of those children will pay the ultimate price for a lack of it.


facebook marketing