Editorial: Being proactive about guns

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Lawrence soon will learn how good it is at being proactive.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis has called for a community forum at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Lawrence High School in response to multiple incidents involving students bringing guns to school.

There are various ways that meeting could unfold. One is that a handful of school leaders remind the crowd of the school district’s policies on firearms, the importance of properly securing firearms in the home, the strategy of “if you see something, say something,” and other such pieces of advice.

All of that information is good to have, but it won’t be enough to stop what is happening in our public school system. To be fair, no one knows exactly what needs to happen to stop guns from entering our schools. It is a complex problem that is affecting communities of all types and sizes.

But one thing is certain: Lawrence must be willing to be proactive.

Students have brought loaded guns to LHS twice in the span of a week, which brought the total number of gun incidents on the district to five since April. Still, there will be people who are tempted to say this rash of incidents is not a new reality but rather just a blip.

If you doubt it, look at what has happened since three people were shot and killed on the public sidewalks of downtown Lawrence on Oct. 1, 2017. While the law enforcement and judicial systems have done an excellent job at working to serve justice in the case, there has been no outpouring of community conversation about downtown safety and gun violence.

Rather, there were some off-hand comments about how the accused are from Topeka and that is where all the problems come from. Can we figure out how to make that theory explain away the gun issues at Lawrence High too?

In some circles, there was a vibe that we really shouldn’t talk too much about the downtown shooting incident, lest we create a negative perception of downtown.

There are any number of reasons we can come up with to avoid the hard work of being proactive.

Again, it is tough to say what action absolutely should be taken. Have we reached a point that our schools need metal detectors? Perhaps, although that would be awfully jarring. Does the school district need to find money to hire its own security staffs? Maybe, but the costs will be very significant. Is enough being done to assure parents that the threats are being taken seriously? Unclear. The district could improve on that front by unequivocally stating when a student has been expelled for bringing a firearm to school. There are ways to comply with student privacy laws and also assure your community that you are not letting the alleged offender back into the student population.

Lewis deserves credit for convening this community conversation. It is the sign of a proactive leader. We still have the opportunity to prevent the real tragedies. What we must hope for now is that we see the signs of a proactive community.

Whatever the solutions are, they won’t be easy. There will be a strong temptation to dismiss these gun incidents as a blip because that certainly will be easier than making changes. And those who will contend that Lawrence schools really don’t have a gun problem will have a powerful argument.

They are guaranteed of being right — until the day that they aren’t.


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