Op/Ed: Young people marched on gun safety, we must listen

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By Tom Wolf, Governor, Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf

Young people marched for their lives. We need to listen – and act.

The March for Our Lives brought together young people from across the country and Pennsylvania to demand safer schools and stronger gun safety laws. Their passion and activism took many forms in an historic show of solidarity, and they have inspired millions to join them in their mission.

We can’t ignore their calls for sensible gun laws that adults in power have failed to enact despite wide public support. And politicians shouldn’t force top-down changes for school safety, like putting guns in classrooms, without listening to the voices of students, parents, teachers, and school officials.

For these students, the images of Columbine, Parkland, Newtown and many other school shootings represent the terrifying threat they worry about, and live with, each day. I hope these students continue to speak out and make their voices heard. I am listening and I join the students in urging Congress and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to take action on gun safety legislation.

In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly should pass bills to keep guns from domestic abusers and ensure that everyone must have a background check before purchasing a gun. At the federal level, Congress must act to ban of weapons of war, like AR-15s.

But this moment also calls on leaders to do more to make sure schools are safe.

On the day after students across Pennsylvania staged peaceful protests for safer schools and gun laws, I announced the creation of School Safety Task Force with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that will listen directly to local education organizations, law enforcement, community members, school officials, teachers, parents and most importantly – students.

The task force will hold regional meetings across the commonwealth over the next few weeks to hear directly from Pennsylvanians. By working together and listening, we can make sure that our schools are a safe place for children to learn and find solutions that will improve school safety, security and preparedness.

Since the tragedy at Columbine shocked our nation, schools have changed how they examine school security to keep kids safer.  Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania State Police, law enforcement, and many others are already working to address the issue.  They have made great progress but we must do more to provide a safe learning environment.

These are difficult issues and the answers will not be easy, but working together we can make our schools safer. I am pleased that several of the state’s leading experts have agreed to serve as vice chairs on the task force. To further support the work of the task force, I have appointed several members of my administration to provide support.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to school safety. The needs and concerns can vary among communities. That is why as the task force holds six regional meetings local students and other representatives will be invited to give their perspectives of that needs of that community.

We must also address the needs of students to measure what additional funding or support is necessary for physical and mental health programs to help students or to improve information sharing among schools, law enforcement and social programs to prevent shootings.

Just as important, we must give students, teachers and others a voice to report suspicious activity by examining new or existing ways for people to report this activity to law enforcement.

As the task force prepares to hear directly from Pennsylvanians, I invite students, parents, educators, law enforcement and everyone else to share their thoughts about how to make our schools safer.  Your feedback will help us make our schools safer today and for future generations.

Seniors in high school today were born right around Columbine. Throughout their lives, they have lived with mass shooting drills, enhanced security and the risk threats. The students are telling us – demanding from us – that we do more to keep them and their schools safe. We are listening and together with the students, we will find real solutions.

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