I was heartbroken to hear about the shooting that occurred at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on Jan. 6. This incident, in which a 6-year-old child brought a handgun to school and shot his teacher, is a stark reminder of the urgent need for strong school safety policies to protect our nation’s children and teachers while on the campus.
As a nation we must stop teaching our children that shooting someone is an acceptable way of solving problems. Parents need to be vigilant regarding their problem-solving techniques, be honest with themselves, and seek help for children exhibiting troubling behaviors.
Schools need to support a safety culture by having a multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment team to intervene and get students, who exhibit concerning behaviors, the help they need before they resort to violence. Years of study by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, including the 2021 Averting Targeted School Attacks report, show this to be effective
The founding families of Stand with Parkland developed three central tenets of school safety advocacy following the murder of our loved ones to make sure no other families suffered the same fate we have. These are securing each school campus, improving mental health programs, and responsible firearm ownership, all of which were addressed in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed into law last year. The Newport News shooting could have been prevented if proper measures were in place to secure the weapon at home and help keep guns out of schools.
Stand with Parkland has developed a simple firearms safety message for parents to teach their children: Gun safety is as easy as 1,2,3! 1) Do not touch the gun, 2) Do not let your friends touch the gun, 3) Go get an adult. With these three simple steps, you can be a hero and prevent tragedy.
If an individual chooses to own a firearm, responsible firearms ownership is a must. The implementation of mandatory safety training for all gun owners, including a focus on the importance of properly storing firearms to prevent children and others from gaining access, will help prevent accidental shootings. Schools should have strict policies in place to secure and monitor all entrances and exits, as well as regular active shooter drills for students and staff.
Furthermore, it is important to address the underlying issues, such as a lack of access to mental health resources for the child and his family. We must prioritize the well-being and safety of our children. That includes addressing mental health and ensuring that those in need have access to the resources and support they need. And it includes putting students in an environment where they can succeed rather than forcing them into mainstream classrooms. The murderer in Parkland grew enraged when he couldn’t fit into mainstream classes and it contributed to his decision to attack my daughter’s school, where 17 were killed. He also disrupted learning for the other students in his classes. We must protect the majority while dealing with outliers compassionately. Failure to do this has resulted in multiple tragedies.
The shooting in Virginia is a tragic reminder of the need for urgent action to protect America’s school children. We must come together as a nation to implement effective school safety policies and address the underlying issues that lead to these senseless acts of violence. A united effort by school staff and administrators, mental health providers, law, enforcement , parents and students is needed. We owe it to the victims and their families, as well as to all of our children and their teachers, to do everything in our power to prevent another school shooting tragedy.
Tony Montalto of Parkland, Florida, is the father of 14-year-old Gina Rose Montalto, who was a victim at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. He is president of Stand With Parkland-The National Association of Families for Safe Schools.