There is nothing more terrifying to a parent than hearing about a mass shooting at a school — Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and most recently, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, to name just a few. Parents are frustrated, scared, and feel powerless. Consider the following statistics:
• The U.S. Secret Service estimates that 73%-80% of school shooters obtained the gun(s) from their home or the homes of relatives or friends.
• The UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center estimates that 25% of California adults either own a gun or live in a home with someone who does.
• Stanford research shows that ready access to unsecured guns in the home is a major risk factor for suicide. In addition, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, "Secure storage is one of the easiest ways to prevent unintentional shootings and gun suicides among children and teens."
• Between 2002 and 2015, more than 350,000 firearms were sold in Santa Clara County alone.
• As recently reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, firearms are now the leading cause of death in children.
The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) notifies parents of other laws regarding child safety, such as driving safely at school drop-off or pickup, requiring proof of vaccinations to enroll in school, and ensuring that those with peanut allergies are not exposed to these foods. But to date, the district communicates to parents about gun violence prevention only in response to school shootings that have already happened or to threats or lockdowns at other schools in our area.
New parents enroll their children in PAUSD every year, and they need to be regularly informed of what they can do to keep children safe in our schools and in their homes.
Two types of gun-safety laws in particular have proven effective in making children safer, and we urge PAUSD to communicate the following to parents no less than annually:
• The city of Palo Alto passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to have a gun in your home that is not safely stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock.
• California's "red flag law" has been used recently to head off threats of potentially deadly school shootings locally, yet few parents and teens in Palo Alto are aware of how this can be utilized in gun-violence prevention. The law allows anyone who is concerned that someone is a danger to themselves or others to contact the police and ask that guns be removed from that person's possession.
PAUSD must take action to reduce the risk of gun violence in our community. We strongly encourage PAUSD to commit to notifying in plain language every year parents and guardians of their role in keeping children safe from guns.
PAUSD can join other local school boards who have committed to notifying parents annually about the importance and legal responsibility of safe gun storage in the home, including state and local requirements. These districts include Sequoia Union High School District, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos High School District, Sunnyvale, Oak Grove and San Jose Unified. Mountain View Whisman School District's notice to parents includes Mountain View's specific local requirements to store guns in a locked container or with a trigger lock; PAUSD's notice should do the same.
In addition to the annual notification and parent acknowledgement required by the California Department of Education, we recommend that the PAUSD school board commit to take actions such as these every year:
• Offer panel discussions (in person or online) on safe gun storage and other gun violence prevention tips, including red flag laws (also known as a Gun Violence Restraining Order, or GVRO). Resources about GVRO for parents, teachers and others are available at speakforsafety.org.
• Partner with Project Safety Net to educate families on the role of guns in suicide prevention.
• Offer assemblies on gun violence prevention for students at middle and/or high schools.
• Promote the free gun-locks program when it is offered by Project ChildSafe through the Palo Alto Police Department.
• Educate parents on the Be Smart initiative, which provides resources to help parents and adults normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries.
• Create a page on the PAUSD website on Gun Violence Prevention and Safe Gun Storage for parents (see the San Diego Unified School District page for an example).
State Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond issued an urgent request in 2019 to California school districts to notify the parent community of the importance of safe firearm storage for the safety of children. In February of this year, the California Department of Education strengthened this wording to say: "Districts and school administrators must help educate parents about firearm safety and California's child access to firearms prevention laws: It is crime for a person to negligently store or leave a loaded firearm in a place where a child is likely to access it."
California Assembly Bill 452 has passed in the state Assembly; it will mandate that all California school districts notify their parent communities about the importance of safe gun storage in the home. But there is no reason to wait, especially when numerous California school districts, including those nearby, have already done so.
Parents and children, as well as teachers, staff, and the entire community, are affected by gun violence. These simple actions by PAUSD can help keep our children, families, and community safer.