The classroom is a Place for Learning, Not for Guns

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readApr 25, 2024

Jessie Rievman (PPS ‘25)

Jessie Rievman (PPS ‘25)

Sandy Hook Elementary School: 26 dead. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: 17 dead. Gun violence in schools is an epidemic, with 377 K-12 school shootings affecting 338,000 students in the past 25 years. How many more students need to die before reform, necessary to stop this epidemic, is made? The list of schools victimized by mass shootings will only continue to grow until gun regulations are strengthened and school prevention policies are improved. The plague of school shootings is curable, yet current federal and state laws enable it to run rampant nationwide.

Schools should be a refuge for children, a welcoming environment that inspires personal and intellectual growth, rather than a battleground where children are drilled in how to effectively dodge bullets in the event of an active shooter. There has been a spike in school shootings over the past few years, paralleling the increase in gun violence across the country. 2022 held the record for the greatest number of K-12 shootings, with attacks on 46 schools, putting 43,450 students at risk. Gun violence at school not only endangers the innocent lives of students, but can also contribute to declines in academic performance, school attendance, and students’ mental health.

Why have school shootings become more prominent? The crux of the debate over school shootings boils down to the issue of gun control. Guns are embedded in American culture, with 3 in 10 Americans claiming to own a gun. This widespread ownership can be largely attributed to lax firearm regulations. While mild political reform has been pursued to ensure the safety of citizens, such as the banning of concealed weapons and requiring background checks, current American gun policies are riddled with flaws that endanger lives — assault weapons are unregulated, background checks are inconsistent, and safety training for weapon use is not required.

The necessity of gun reform is emphasized with every gun-related death, yet legislation is consistently blocked due to Republican party legislators, who are often backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). The pro-gun argument centers around the highly contested claim of the 2nd Amendment: the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Proponents argue that gun ownership is backed by the Constitution, and that guns are beneficial as a safety and self-defense mechanism. But at what cost? Pro-gun advocates need to reevaluate their beliefs about guns in light of the disturbing statistics on gun violence in schools. The argument of safety and self-defense is trivial considering the young lives lost from mass school shootings — tragedy that is armed by current gun policies.

Beyond the issue of gun control, an area that receives minimal attention in the conversation of mass school shootings is the support resources and prevention policies provided by schools. A Brookings Institute study found that over half of K-12 school shooters suffer from psychological conditions including depression and bipolar disorder, along with an inclination towards violence. Many also suffer from a history of rejection, such as bullying. While there is no clear-cut profile of a “school shooter,” warning signs exist that warrant intervention from schools. Therefore, schools need to be properly equipped with trained staff and health care providers who can identify vulnerable students and provide behavioral treatment. As a preventative tactic, schools need to invest in making mental health and support resources stronger and more widely available.

Furthermore, the US Department of Education and Secret Service found that “in 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.” If students tend to have this insight, schools need to provide accessible ways to refer at-risk students and must create benevolent environments that foster strong communication between students and faculty. While mass school shootings are not entirely preventable, steps can be taken to recognize the potential of a shooting and intervene before it’s too late.

The future of gun control may seem grim as Democrats and Republicans are at a stark disagreement over gun regulations. However, now is the time for change as school shootings are rapidly rising and preventable. Legislators must push to raise the age to buy guns, ban assault weapons, and enforce background checks, taking guns out of the hands of school shooters. Furthermore, politicians should enable the adoption of prevention and support resources in schools nationwide through legal regulations and monetary appropriations. 12 children die per day in the United States from gun violence — when does it end?

Jessie Rievman is from Short Hills, NJ and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.