When I was growing up, adults firmly believed that children should be seen and not heard. We were usually shooed away whenever grown folks started talking.
Such old-fashioned thinking is the mindset of some lawmakers at the Colorado Capitol, and more-so Tennessee lawmakers who refused to listen to students coping with escalating gun violence in schools.
The unexpected death of someone you know is hard to take, and doubly difficult for young people. I still recall the death of a well-liked girl in my grade school from an accident in which her dress caught on fire.
Sadness and confusion from 60 years ago came rushing back as I saw the faces of Colorado students begging lawmakers for new solutions to prevent the carnage.
They are rightfully upset.
Given the fierce urgency of now, Gov. Jared Polis should call a special session to hash out these and other differences.
This is the generation that learns math, science, and active shooter drills. CDC data show the leading cause of death among children and teenagers is firearm-related injuries.
Active Minds, a nonprofit that promotes mental health for young people, reports more than 300,000 youth have seen, experienced, or known the pain associated with a school shooting since Columbine in 1999. The group says millions fear they will be next.
One would have thought that by now Colorado’s infamous school shootings and frequent gun massacres would have led state lawmakers to do whatever it takes to protect their constituents.
As a matter of fact, Republicans still spout some version of “thoughts and prayers” as if that’s the best they can do.
That’s because their party interprets the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution as:
“The right of all citizens to acquire military-style weaponry that is specifically designed to kill as many people as quickly possible no matter how heinous and despicable the act, shall not be abridged.”
In addition, said politicians can’t stop suckling the teat of the NRA for even one minute. They live in fear of making the gun lobby mad.
Polls show a majority of Americans, Republican gun owners included, want laws that help slow the roll of angry bad guys who target innocent people.
Pro-gun extremists keep getting away with the embarrassingly silly proclamation, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”
It rings hollow with each mass shooting.
Think of the nearly 1,000 people that Mother Jones magazine estimates died by gunfire in the last 40 years because recalcitrant Republicans were in cahoots with gun manufacturers flooding the U.S. market.
On the other hand, Democrats gotta step up too.
They nibble around the edges of taking bold action in Colorado by regulating large capacity magazines, passing red flag laws, upping age limits for buying long guns, adding waiting periods, etc.
Students protesting outside Gov. Polis’s office recently were not impressed with his list of the party’s proposals and achievements.
He did not satisfy Nayeli Lopez, a sophomore at Denver’s North High School who says the governor’s words felt like robotic talking points instead of reassurance that things will get better.
She wants more school funding. “The safest schools don’t have the most cops, they have the most resources,” said Lopez. “We’ve talked about this for so long. Since before I was born.”
The Denver school board’s response to two administrators being wounded recently inside East High is to reinstate armed officers at certain secondary schools until the end of the academic year.
It’s a move that doesn’t sit well with students of color who say some officers tend to mess with them disproportionally more than they do the white kids.
No surprise that what’s true about policing Black and Brown people is also true in school settings.
However, Superintendent Alex Marrero says officers will handle only safety matters and won’t engage in disciplinary actions.
While chants of “shame” fell on deaf ears in The Tennessee House where just proposing to debate gun legislation is verboten, thank goodness lawmakers here aren’t that stupid.
Republicans say no discussions about the increase in crime prevented them from voting for the gun reform package.
Some Democrats say they were rebuffed in proposing a statewide ban on assault weapons. Only Denver has such a law.
It appears that both sides favor a deeper dive into the role mental health plays in the gun crisis.
That is why Polis should call a special session. He should also invite students to the table.
Political gamesmanship may abate somewhat if lawmakers looked them in the eyes.
Children forced to live with the trauma and stress of school gun violence should be seen and heard.
Jo Ann Allen retired recently from Colorado Public Radio in Denver after 47 years of reporting the news. She is the creator and host of the podcast Been There Done That.
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