More Guns Won’t Make Us Safer…
Sandy Hook one year later.
As a teacher, I’ve always been concerned about school safety, but its value and importance has grown exponentially since December 14, 2012. I know this is true for most Americans, but for me it’s especially true.
My mother, Mary Sherlach, was the school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She was in her 18th year there and absolutely loved her school. That’s what she always called it: her school. She was the most senior member of the staff and felt as though all the precious children in that building were her own flesh and blood. When danger appeared on the morning of December 14th, she acted as a mother. She put herself in harm’s way and helped to slow an unimaginable evil that had been unleashed on her kids and colleagues.
Despite the nightmare that unfolded, it’s important to recognize that Sandy Hook actually did it right when it comes to school safety. Their doors were locked. They practiced their drills so much so that every teacher in that building knew exactly what to do that morning. When real danger appeared, they didn’t pause, they didn’t panic; they made real decisions that saved lives. Thanks to their quick reactions, the police arrived a mere 4 minutes and 30 seconds after the shooting started. That was vital in reducing the number of casualties that morning.
About three weeks after the shooting, I found myself back teaching music in Salem, New Jersey. And I felt safe. I still do. We have a variety of security measures, including locked doors, regular emergency drills, a full-time school resource officer who is an active-duty police officer, and a security guard at our front door. I also believe our school’s climate contributes greatly to our safety. When I walk around the halls, I see teachers and students treating each other with kindness and respect.
What I don’t see—and I hope never to see—are teachers walking around with loaded weapons. After the shooting at Sandy Hook, I watched in shock as some argued that arming teachers and administrators would make us safer. I disagree whole-heartedly. The presence of guns in schools will always increase the risk of gun violence, whether through accidental or intentional use. As a teacher, it sickens me to think of my administration, my colleagues, even me, being forced to carry guns.
I find it hard to understand how many of the same people who want teachers like me to come to class armed have done so little to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. Even though over 90 percent of Americans favor background checks on all gun purchases, Congress has failed to act on common sense reforms that would save lives.
Earlier this year, I became a spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (www.momsdemandaction.org), a group that was formed the day after my mother’s death to advocate for common-sense gun reform. Although I’m not yet a mom myself, I am committed to doing everything I can to keep our schools safe – not by making schools look more like prisons, but by fighting for laws that will make a real difference in our safety. I urge you to make your voice heard. Contact your elected officials and tell them that you will no longer tolerate inaction on gun reform. Galvanize the parents and teachers in your community to fight for sane policies. Find your local chapter of Moms Demand Action and find out how you can start making a difference. It is up to the parents and the teachers of America to fix our broken gun laws.
My mother was a hero. She put the safety of her students and her school before everything. We must do the same.
Maura Sherlach Schwartz is a music teacher at Salem City High School in Salem, New Jersey and a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (momsdemandaction.org).