As our community absorbs the grim news of 21 dead and 17 injured in an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, it is only human to think about how our own ferry-dependent, rural island would be impacted by such a horrific event.
Last week, Vashon school superintendent Slade McSheehy sent out a community email that included resources for parents to talk to their children about school safety, in a time when so many of us are out of words to explain this to our young ones.
McSheehy also listed the ways the district demonstrates its commitment to school safety, through such practices as training, drills, and threat assessment aimed at preventing violence before it occurs. Any islander who hears or sees something should also say something, he said, to either a staff member or through the district’s K12 Anonymous Alert System.
Each of the district’s schools has teams and protocols in place outlining measures to address safety and security concerns, McSheehy said, adding that the district works collaboratively with the King County Sherriff Department, which serves all school buildings.
Despite this reassurance, it is hard to think about what our tiny law enforcement presence on Vashon could do in its immediate response to an incident here — until you remember that a phalanx of officers, armed to the hilt in Uvalde, also failed, catastrophically and shamefully, to protect the tiny victims in Robb Elementary School.
More “good guys” with guns, of course, did not help in Texas, nor will they help anywhere in changing the sad reality that according to the CDC, guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the United States.
The only answer, of course, is sweeping gun law reform, as has been enacted in countries including Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom in the wake of mass shootings. Those countries now not only have only rare instances of mass shootings but also lower rates of gun violence of all kinds.
Here in the United States, though, in the complete absence of a rational and compassionate national policy, we now see mass shootings on almost a weekly basis. And according to the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation of the United Nations, our nation’s rate of gun deaths, of all kinds, exceeds any other developed nation on earth.
Some states fare better than others, though.
One of those states is Washington, which is ranked ninth in the U.S. in a 2022 study by Everytown Research and Policy, which scored every state on the strength of its gun laws and compared it with its rate of gun violence.
The study demonstrates that in states where elected officials have taken action to pass gun safety laws, fewer people die from gun violence. It’s that simple.
Washington’s laws include a ban on high-capacity magazines, such as the ones used in Uvalde, as well as bans on ghost guns and bump stocks. Our laws require universal background checks and stipulate a minimum age of 21 to purchase semi-automatic weapons — the latter of which, had it been enacted in Texas, could have prevented the deranged 18-year-old shooter in Uvalde from purchasing weapons of war to slaughter children.
Washington stipulates risk protection orders, allowing law enforcement and often family members to petition for a court order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns.
Our laws also include liability for unsafe storage of guns and prohibit the open carrying of firearms in certain public places including local government meetings and election-related facilities.
But in terms of Everytown’s survey of gun laws, eight states rank even higher than Washington in terms of their gun control measures — and we need to continue to push to bring our state to the top of the list.
In the United States, there are now 120 guns for every 100 people, according to a study by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey — the highest rate of gun ownership by far for any country in the world.
And until the profit-motivated and political madness of U.S. gun policy comes to an end, our children will continue to face an evil danger. Our national tragedy will continue unabated, more mournful than any Greek tragedy.