After Parkland, States Acted on Guns, Congress Didn’t

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student walkout

Students in Des Moines, Iowa participating in the April, 2018 national school walkout called for action to prevent gun violence in schools. But a Police Foundation study suggests that the lack of communication about signs of student distress also has a critical role to play in school safety. Photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr.

In the year since the Parkland, Fl., school massacre, both Republican- and Democratic-controlled state legislatures passed 76 gun control laws in the past year, including bans on bump stocks, caps on magazine sizes, minimum-age requirements for buying guns and expanded background checks, the New York Times reports.

Among victories for gun control advocates was a bill in Florida that raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days.

More than half the states passed at least one gun control measure in 2018, with Washington and New York joining the trend in 2019.

There were significantly fewer new state laws expanding gun rights in 2018 than the year before, according to an end-of-year report by the national advocacy group Giffords.

The National Rifle Association said the number of enacted gun control measures outnumbered pro-gun measures for the first time in at least six years.

At the federal level, momentum for change was quickly stymied by partisan gridlock. Republicans in Congress remained silent as Democrats called for changes after mass shootings.

The White House flip-flopped on promises to raise the minimum age to purchase rifles and to enforce universal background checks. In the end, the only significant national change was a ban on bump stocks, which members of both parties had been seeking since the Las Vegas concert shooting in October 2017.

The House, where Democrats took power in January, has now made gun safety a priority, and the Judiciary Committee passed two gun-control bills on Wednesday that would strengthen background checks and close a loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to buy a gun that he used in the Charleston church massacre in 2015. With a Republican Senate and president, the chances of either measure moving beyond the House are virtually nil.

More, one year after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the urgency for new gun restrictions has declined, but roughly half the U.S. is concerned a mass shooting could happen at a school in their community, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting that killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day, 71 percent of Americans said laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter.

Now, it’s 51 percent.

“Not surprisingly, the results show that the outcry against gun violence has lessened from what it was immediately following the shooting at Parkland,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “Yet, there is a strong consensus that gun violence is a serious problem and action needs to be taken.”

Many states have taken action by increasing police presence in the schools. As of October, 20 states had guaranteed $450 million in school-security spending in the wake of Parkland, according to the Associated Press.

However, research shows that increased police presence in schools does not make students safer—and that disproportionately harms non-white, disabled, and queer students.

“Since Parkland, there’s been a lot of discussion from government entities around increasing law enforcement presence in schools, and that’s unfortunate. It doesn’t help students, and there are better ways to create safe environments,” says Marc Schindler, director of the Justice Policy Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform.

Less than a month after the shooting, Florida rapidly passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, which requires that a police officer—or “armed school employee”—be stationed in every school in the state.

The bill also included some relatively minor additions to gun-control restrictions.  Only 17 percent of the bill’s $400 million funding was allocated to mental-health programming; the majority went to increased security and surveillance.

Neighboring Georgia took similar action soon after, adding $16 million more to annual spending on school security. And, last month, Governor Brian Kemp announced a program allocating $69 million for “school security grants.”

Currently, about half the students in the United States attend a school with one or more full-time police officers stationed in the school, according to Cleveland State University social work professor Christopher Mallett, whose research focuses on juvenile justice and schools.

States and school districts vary widely in the terminology—and specifics of bureaucratic oversight—for their police in schools.

Many are called by euphemistic names like “school resource officer” (SRO). Some are employed directly by the school, while others are provided by the local police precinct, or the county sheriff.

In the Broward County, Fl., school system, which includes Parkland, officials are installing a camera-software combination called Avigilon that would allow security officials to track students based on their appearance. With one click, a guard could pull up video of everywhere else a student has been recorded on campus, the Washington Post reports.

One teacher voiced concerns about the system’s accuracy, invasiveness and effectiveness. “How is this computer going to make a decision on what’s the right and wrong thing in a school with over 3,000 kids?,” the teacher asked.

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