Hard Conversations

4 Things Parents Can Do Right Now to Speak Up Against School Shootings

By: Christine Cully
Little girl hugging mother before school with school bus in the background.
4 minutes to read
For All Ages
Social Emotional

Last May when we learned that 21 children and teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde were killed in a school shooting and another 17 wounded, we were thrust into a whirling vortex of emotions: disbelief, horror, grief, fear, white-hot anger, and anguish. Our minds flashbacked to Sandy Hook, of course, and also to Parkland, to Columbine, to Virginia Tech, to all the mass shootings in schools across the nation. We strained to remember them all.  

We strained to remember and name them all.  

But we couldn’t name them all. There have been too many. 

This time, we said last spring, we can’t forget. We have to do more than feel terrible, move on, and hope it never happens again.    

Hope, as the saying goes, is not a strategy.   

And as it turned out, it was harder to forget and move on. The frequent updates to this horrific story each felt like another punch to the gut. The videos depicting the botched police response were shown over and over, reigniting our anger. The interviews with students afraid to return to the classroom broke our hearts again. Feel-good stories about traumatized Uvalde students being met at school with comfort dogs actually did little to comfort us.

For so long, I felt like one of the walking wounded. And I cannot begin to fathom the pain of Uvalde parents and citizens.     

I didn’t feel better when I watched a video about a school in TN instructing its teachers—nuns!—how to throw a throat punch or take out an active shooter’s eye.

I am not inspired or reassured by the photos on social media showing children headed back to school with bullet-proof backpacks intended to be used as shields. Do these backpacks make kids feel safer, or do they inflict more trauma on them? Is their purchase a straw that terrified parents are grasping, because, after all, what else have they been given to hold onto?  

Hope, as the saying goes, is not a strategy.   

The tenth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting this month underscores this truth.  

Last fall, Everytown for Gun Safety, National Education Association, and American Federation of Teachers released a report showing that during the 2021-2022 school year, there were 193 incidents of gunfire on school grounds—a number nearly four times the monthly average of all other years since Everytown began tracking these trends in 2013. These incidents led to 59 deaths and 138 injuries, and left countless children fearful and traumatized in other ways.  

The shocking stats in the report give context to 10 recommendations for actions we can take to make schools safer. The report gives us a plan that’s data-based and commonsensical. It’s a report everyone who cares about kids should read.

These days, we seem to view every societal problem through a red or blue lens. It’s a given that this plan will be viewed similarly. But it’s also a given that we all want to keep our children safe, we can all see that this is moving in the wrong direction, and we all want to do something. The good news is that we can each find some element in this plan to support—something we can do

Here are four suggestions for meaningful action taken from the report:  

  • Commit to learning the warning signs of violence. Sixty percent of shooters were former or current students at the school. Shooters almost always exhibit warning signs. Speak up if you see or hear something concerning. 
  • Work to help educate families on the importance of properly storing firearms. Nearly three-quarters of school shooters find their weapons in the family home or the home of a close relative. It’s estimated that 4.6 million American kids live in households with an unlocked and loaded firearm. Volunteer to help your school create and distribute informational materials about secure storage of guns. 
  • Lobby for evidence-based security updates in your child’s school. This report includes reliable data you can take to your school or school district to help make common-sense decisions about how to better secure school buildings. More voices are better than one. Form a parents’ group and work together. 
  • Lobby for common-sense gun laws. Poll after poll shows that the majority of U.S. citizens favor the creation of new laws that make it difficult for powerful firearms to get into the wrong hands. 

A few decades ago, the idea that school gun violence could grow to become a problem of this proportion was unthinkable. But here we are. And unless we all commit to doing something—to finding  even a single thread we can help weave into the multi-threaded solution that’s required—we’ll move from one shooting to the next with unending worry, fear, and grief.  

Let’s unite to work together. Let’s each find a part we can play in finding real solutions to this growing problem. We can start by casting aside our red- or blue-colored glasses to read and learn from this report. Let’s do it--in memory of the children who died in Sandy Hook, in Uvalde, and in all the other school shootings, so many of which may well have been prevented. 

Christine French Cully, Editor-in-Chief of Highlights
By: Christine Cully

Christine French Cully joined Highlights in 1994 after 15 years in children's publishing. She is the Chief Purpose Officer and Editor-in-Chief at Highlights and she’s only the fourth editor-in-chief who has led Highlights during its 75-year history. Christine has two grown children and a new grandbaby. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.