The New Jersey School Boards Association’s Task Force on Firearm Safety in Schools has organized and is beginning its work. The task force includes 17 local school board members, NJSBA staff and resource persons.
“Gun violence is the number one cause of death among children under the age of 18,” said Irene LeFebvre, president of NJSBA. “We have a responsibility to study this issue and see if there are strategies and programs to prevent gun violence and protect our students from harm.”
The NJSBA Task Force on Firearm Safety in Schools will:
- Research and identify proactive, preventative programs, processes and actions designed to keep students, their families and others safe from accidental or intentional firearm violence in school, at home, and in the community.
- Recommend strategies that local boards of education may consider for implementation in their respective districts to prevent acts of violence caused by firearms, as well as by other weapons. Such programs may address gun safety and firearm storage, healthy school climate and the impact of exposure to violence on student mental health.
The NJSBA Task Force on Firearm Safety in Schools includes:
- Raymond Wiss, chairperson
- Rita Barone, Watchung Hills board
- Marie Bilik, Green Twp. board
- Erica Campbell, Palmyra board
- Ray Hayducka, South Brunswick chief of police
- Josephine Garcia, Newark board
- William Hulse, Cranford board
- Rita Martin, Winslow board
- Scott Miller, Dover board
- George Scott, statewide coordinator, Traumatic Loss Coalition
- Krista Seanor, Dover board
- Irene LeFebvre, NJSBA president
- Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director, CEO
- Vince DeLucia, educator-in-residence
- Cindy Harrison, senior legal assistant
- Carl Tanksley, general counsel
- Frank Belluscio, retired NJSBA deputy executive director, director of communications
Purpose of the Study NJSBA is convening the Firearm Safety in Schools Task Force as the nation reflects on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The horrific event and subsequent incidents of violence in schools and communities prompted in-depth studies on school safety and security by NJSBA, the state’s attorney general and countless other state and national education, public safety and governmental entities.
Even with the implementation of critical and effective programs and policies, statistics show that more must be done.
- Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens under the age of 18, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.
- Last year, 3,597 children died by gunfire, according to provisional statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, reported in The New York Times on Dec. 14, 2022.
- An estimated 4.6 million American children live in households with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Between 2015 and 2020, there were at least 2,070 unintentional shootings by children that resulted in 765 deaths and 1,366 nonfatal injuries, according Everytown for Gun Safety, a nationwide organization that advocates for firearms safety. In 2020 alone, at least 125 toddlers and children ages 5 and under shot themselves or someone else.
- Last year, suicides made up nearly 30% of child gun deaths — 1,078, according to statistics from the Everytown group.
- In the vast majority of school shootings, the perpetrators were current or former students, who obtained their guns from their homes or the homes of relatives, according to Students Demand Action, an organization of high school and college students affiliated with Everytown.
- Students who bring weapons to school are primarily troubled individuals who have difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, and often have experienced childhood trauma, such as bullying, according to studies by NJSBA and other organizations.
Research suggests that secure firearm storage is essential to any strategy to keep students safe from gun violence.
- The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center stresses the importance of appropriate storage of weapons because the firearms used in many acts of gun violence, including those in schools, were acquired from the shooters’ homes.
- Secure storage practices reduce the risk of unintentional firearm injuries among children and teenagers by 85% and self-inflicted gun injuries by up to 78%.
Across the country, lawmakers, community members, and local leaders are working together to implement public awareness campaigns. An example is Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s Be SMART program, which is endorsed by the National PTA and encourages secure gun storage practices and highlights the public safety risks of unsecured guns.
In addition, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Psychiatric Association have urged the president and Congress to take concrete steps to address gun violence.
Exposure to gun violence can have long-term, deleterious consequences for students, their mental and emotional health and their ability to learn. Because of this, NJSBA has long supported efforts, including legislation, focused on prohibiting firearms in schools and promoting secure physical campuses and healthy school climates.
As statistics show, however, efforts to address gun violence and its impact on children and their families must continue. These strategies require a multi-pronged approach that recognizes firearm safety and secure storage, supportive school climates and the importance of addressing the emotional well-being of students affected by gun violence.
The recommendations will be part of a report to be disseminated to all local boards of education in New Jersey. The task force will complete its work by Feb. 28, 2023.