White House Looks to School Principals for Gun Safety Input, Amid Skepticism

The Biden administration is urging school principals to promote safe gun storage to parents and staff in order to prevent school shootings. Ahead of a town hall event on Thursday, the administration released materials for educators to use in their communities. The aim is to make it easier for school leaders to discuss this sensitive topic with families. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote a letter to principals, emphasizing their credibility and trust within their communities. The materials include a gun storage guide and a sample letter to parents containing tips on trigger locks and ammunition storage.

During a call with reporters on Wednesday, Stefanie Feldman, the director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, explained that principals often express their desire to do everything possible to keep students and educators safe, but they should not have to be experts on safe firearm storage.

Research has shown that the majority of school shooters obtain their weapons from home, friends, or relatives. This was evident in the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, where the parents of the gunman now face involuntary manslaughter charges for allowing their son access to a weapon despite warning signs. Additionally, data reveals that 80% of gun suicides involving children 18 and younger involve a weapon owned by a family member.

President Joe Biden, who has received support from major gun control advocacy groups in this year’s election, has taken executive actions to reduce gun violence. These measures include increased background checks and the prohibition of the sale of “ghost guns.” However, Republicans have largely resisted the President’s efforts to tighten gun restrictions.

Not all principals may respond positively to the administration’s message. Edward Cosentino, principal at Phelps Luck Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland, expressed his concerns, stating that everything seems to be placed on the shoulders of principals and schools nowadays.

According to officials, the materials provided to educators supplement the opportunities schools have to apply for safety and mental health grants that are available through a gun safety law passed after the 2022 shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Speaking to reporters, Deputy Education Secretary Cindy Marten emphasized the role of school leaders as “trusted voices” who can bring attention to this issue among parents.

Currently, 34 states have laws aimed at preventing children from accessing guns. Eight states specifically require guns to be secured in locked containers or with locking devices, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also issued model legislation to encourage more states to enact laws preventing child access to firearms. However, there is currently no federal requirement for gun owners to secure their weapons.

This Thursday event followed Education Secretary Cardona’s visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This is where the infamous shooting took place almost six years ago, resulting in the death of 17 students and school staff members. The building, which remains untouched since the shooting, is scheduled for demolition this year. The perpetrator, Nikolas Cruz, is serving a life sentence for the attack.

The recent death of an Iowa principal who protected students during a school shooting on January 4 has also deeply affected many educators. Tracy Hilliard, principal of Urbana Elementary in Frederick, Maryland, and president of the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals, highlighted the weight placed on principals due to their multiple roles. Hilliard plans to attend the White House event on Thursday.

Deputy Education Secretary Cindy Marten shared her experience as the former superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District. During her tenure, she required schools to send a letter to parents emphasizing the importance of safely storing any weapons they may have.

However, some argue that it is unfair to burden school leaders who are already overwhelmed. Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, a nonprofit organization that provides training to school leaders, believes that it is unrealistic to expect school administrators to enthusiastically take on this responsibility. Trump questions the administration’s decision to involve educators in what he considers a potentially contentious issue.

Principals do not want to become more lightning rods, Trump added.

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