Increased communication, security measures will prevent students from bringing guns to school

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel will retire in May after serving the community for 38 years, the last 13 as chief.

You undoubtedly have noticed an increase in the number of children bringing guns to school, including elementary schools. Since 2019, there have been 181 recorded incidents where children between the ages of 6 and 11 brought guns to school, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Thankfully, no deaths were reported. So far in 2023, 22 gun incidents in elementary schools in the U.S. have been recorded. Recently, this happened in a grade school in Evanston.

Guns are being brought into school buildings packed in students’ bags, backpacks, lunch bags and athletic bags. Sometimes, they have been discovered tucked into a student’s waistband. Since 2019, there have been 335 school shooting incidents in the U.S., with the offenders ranging in age from 6 to 34.

Why do children, specifically elementary and high school students, bring weapons to school? The answer is complex, but some research indicates students bring guns to school because other students bullied them. The National Institute of Health recently said the overwhelming response from students caught with handguns was they got them for protection.

Other reasons included they wanted to have a tough guy, criminal-type image, wanted other students to respect them or thought a handgun would earn that respect. Some posted pictures of themselves with the guns on social media accounts to look cool. Not surprisingly, some brought a gun to school to inflict harm by shooting other students or staff members.

So what can be done to prevent guns from being brought to school? It starts with a good security program at the school, including hiring security or police personnel and having them posted at the entrances to the school so they can be seen interacting with the students. There also must be open communication between students, parents and staff.

It is critical that every threat involving bringing a weapon to school be taken seriously, no matter when the threat is received. Police should be contacted so that intelligence information may be gathered and an investigation into the danger be handled immediately. Police should go to the student’s home and question the parents and student with a faculty member present. This may require that the student not be allowed to attend school during the investigation, even if the incident is false.

Typically, information regarding the threat of violence will spread rapidly on students’ social media accounts. This may create an environment of panic among students and significantly reduce attendance. This should be addressed head-on by sending parents and students messages about what is happening. Finally, school officials must stop hiding behind privacy issues when lives matter.

Of the 22 cases reported so far in the U.S. in 2023 in which grade school-aged children brought guns to school, 12 obtained guns from their parents without their knowledge. There is a growing trend where parents are not locking up their firearms in their homes and children are bringing them to school. There is a debate about whether parents should be charged criminally if their child brings a gun to school because of the parents’ neglect. I, for one, support the guns being seized. There have even been cases where police and correction officers left their guns unsecured and their children brought them to school. There was a recent case in Illinois where a correctional officer was charged criminally with not securing his weapon after his child brought it to school. Every police agency in the U.S. has stringent policies about securing on-duty and off-duty weapons in the home. These policies need to be strictly enforced by every police agency.

We all must stay vigilant, take threats seriously and pay attention to what is being communicated via social media. We need to listen to our children and communicate with school staff and police officials when a threat is presented.