- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Maryland high school student scolded federal officials conducting a “listening session” on school safety Wednesday, saying they must look at guns as the primary issue behind school shootings.

“We, the students, experience the American school system every day,” Alessia Modjarrad, a graduating senior at Poolesville High School, told the members of the Federal Commission on School Safety (FCSS). “We used to sit in classrooms waiting for something to be done. Now we will use our voice, and now it’s time for the commission to listen.

“I don’t want to be scared. I don’t want to think, at any moment, someone with a gun could walk in and hurt us all,” said Ms. Modjarrad, a member of Montgomery County Students for Gun Control.

She suggested that the commissioners “reconsider their current, complicit stance on the role of guns and school safety.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who heads the commission, said her panel would not look at the role of guns or how it may be linked to school violence.

Mrs. DeVos did not attend Wednesday’s commission meeting, the first of the four public listening sessions in which students, teachers, administrators and advocates can address how local and state governments can improve school safety.

Rep. John Rutherford, Florida Republican and a former sheriff, told the commission that he would rather prevent a mass casualty event than be a first responder to one.

“I think we need to look at why these individuals go back to their schools to kill their fellow [classmates],” said Mr. Rutherford, who works with the Sandy Hook Promise Group and introduced the Stop School Violence Act of 2018. “I believe these kids go to these schools to kill because they perceive, in their mind, that this is the source of their pain and their life, and they go there to kill the pain in their life.”

Michael Yin, a recent graduate of Richard Montgomery High School in Maryland, said: “As we seek to make our school safer, we cannot turn them into a prison and force school staff to be the guards. A school full of guns is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Following Mr. Yin’s speech, the commissioners said they will not be looking at ways to confiscate weapons but will be looking at specific age limits for the purchase of specific kinds of weapons and examining legal procedures for confiscating weapons from people with mental health issues.

Marlyn Tillman is executive director of Gwinnett StoPP, a Georgia nonprofit that aims to improve community relations. She told the commissioners that the listening session did not provide enough time for parents to be included on a topic that impacts them. Mrs. Tillman asked the FCSS to give advance notice for the next three sessions to allow more participation.

“Safety does not mean more police in schools, more metal detectors and armed teachers,” said Amina Henderson-Redwan, an organizer for Voices of Youth in Chicago Education advocacy group. “Safety means to get to the root causes of a student’s misbehavior. It means more conflict resolution, alternatives to arrest, and supporting students when their mental and behavioral health is needed.”

President Trump appointed Mrs. DeVos to chair the commission in March, after the deadly Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people. Commission members include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II.

Meanwhile, states hard hit by shootings have taken measures to increase school safety and address guns.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott introduced 40 recommendations to protect students and teachers after a shooting at Santa Fe High School that killed 10 people. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy recently signed a bill that bans bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to fire like fully automatic ones.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a law that raises the minimum age of firearm purchases from 18 to 21, bans the ownership and purchase of bump stocks, and requires buyers to wait three days before receiving a gun.

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