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Letter to Editor: Promote safe schools by promoting gun safety

In addition to the usual tired responses, the recent mass shooting provoked an outcry from young people themselves demanding that their government hear them and take action to address their understandable fears.

Their fears are our fears. School administrators, law enforcement and mental health personnel have for decades shared the worry that such an event will happen on their watch. For some, it seems to be a problem of such magnitude that nothing can be done but watch as the slaughter continues and the public offers increasingly irrelevant condolences.

Regionally, there have been a number of initiatives, two of which involved 20 northwestern Minnesota school districts that came together with local public and private mental health providers and law enforcement to implement a coordinated array of strategies under two Safe School initiatives beginning 15 years ago. Efforts involved improving the school environments by addressing bullying behaviors, increasing access to trained mental health staff, training teachers and counselors to screen for risk, educating parents and improving the ability of local law enforcement to address potential or actual incidents. At the completion of these two initiatives, school personnel were better able to identify and screen for potential danger; mental health workers were better able to support district personnel with timely interventions, and law enforcement was much better prepared to respond with full knowledge of the physical layout of each school.

Regional personnel can be proud of their efforts to take this seriously. But few, if asked, would say that their efforts were sufficient to insure the safety of our children. The projects did not address the easy access to guns or promote their safe storage. Efforts to address gun laws were considered outside of the scope of these projects. The discussion of any restriction on access to guns, even by children, was simply taboo.

We are rural people. We love our guns. Hunting connects the generations with memories we cherish. But we love our children more. None of us would trade the life of our child or grandchild for a gun. We can step up as parents and grandparents and promote safe access, safe storage and safe use of the right kinds of guns. The kids in Florida want action now. If asked, ours would say the same. I think we should listen.