The savagery that struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 continues to awaken the consciousness of the country. When 14 students and three adults were gunned down by a former student wielding an assault rifle, a youth movement was born from the tragedy.
Sadly, the incident at Stoneman Douglas wasn’t, and won’t be, the last school shooting in America. But as the energized student movement continues to speak out and organize, school safety measures and common-sense gun regulations will be enacted. Florida was quick to act in the wake of the shooting as youth marched on Tallahassee demanding action.
And they got it. The conservative-dominated Florida Legislature and its Republican governor enacted a series of school safety initiatives. The measures increased the minimum age to purchase any firearm to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases. Bump stocks, which enable a semi-automatic rifle to be operated as an automatic rifle, were eliminated. County school districts in Florida were given the option to train and arm teachers in the classroom.
The movement sparked by students in Florida has spread. A month after the mass shooting in Parkland, Stoneman Douglas students led a march on Washington, D.C., that attracted a crowd estimated at 800,000 participants. Rallies were taking place at the same time at hundreds of locations across the nation.
The message has been heard in Minnesota.
As the current session of the Legislature heads for its mandated May 21 adjournment, school safety measures are in the works that will give local districts flexibility in taking steps to make schools safer. Legislative proposals from the Republican-controlled House and Senate and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton are headed for a bipartisan bill that will become law.
The Legislature has proposed spending up to $50 million for building physical security steps, threat assessment and suicide prevention efforts, and mental health programs. The bill would enlarge pools of grant money now available that help schools pay for security improvements. The proposal would also relax state laws that prevent districts from spending building maintenance dollars on building security needs.
Gov. Dayton is on record supporting a $21 million plan that covers many of the same measures as the legislative proposal. It would create broad categories, giving local districts the flexibility to spend new funding in areas deemed critical. Physical improvements to schools would command $16 million while mental health programs would see $5 million in funding.
On whole we salute the Legislature and Gov. Dayton for measures to help districts address school safety issues too long ignored. We would think twice, however, about relaxing rules on maintenance funding. Doing so would enable districts to address safety needs while delaying maintenance needs that are too often ignored. Appropriate the funds to fully address school safety needs.
It is disappointing, however, that the Legislature is refusing to examine any common-sense gun regulations. In light of a recent public opinion survey, it is clear that state residents overwhelmingly approve of universal background checks for any gun purchase. Strong support was also found for increasing the legal age for gun purchases from 18 to 21.
There seemed to be hope for a compromise last week when Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, expressed optimism that movement might come on gun issues. A day later, Daudt backtracked, saying his comments were not understood and that action on gun issues this session was dead.
It is notable that a conservative state like Florida will step boldly forward with laws addressing a controversial topic. In Florida, lawmakers are willing to risk the wrath of voters who strongly believe in 2nd Amendment rights and see any step at gun regulation as an effort to eliminate the right of gun ownership.
We hope that it won’t take a Stoneman Douglas incident here to push Minnesota lawmakers to some form of common-sense gun regulation. Lawmakers should not take lightly the voices of the many students who have rallied behind the Parkland effort. Many will vote in the fall and the number of youths turning of voting age will grow.
We should not forget the impact youths had 50 years ago when Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s anti-Vietnam War campaign was adopted by students across the country. McCarthy’s message resonated with students and the national movement of 1968 grew so strong that President Lyndon Johnson soon saw no path to another term and quit the race. That’s influence.
Yes, students and their parents can be influential and should not be disregarded. It was proven in 1968 and the efforts launched in Florida in 2018 should worry politicians who continue to do business as usual.
A good start at school safety is on the way in Minnesota but more work remains to be done.
– An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome, send to firstname.lastname@example.org.