'Public Health Emergency': Protecting Youth from Gun Violence
Monday, June 20, 2022
Congress continues to debate possible changes to the nation's gun laws after the recent school shooting in Texas. In the meantime, efforts move forward in Minnesota to establish safer environments in schools and surrounding communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says gun violence is now the leading cause of death for all children and teens.
Ayolanda Evans Mack - director of community response and education for the group Protect Minnesota - said it goes beyond school grounds, pointing to incidents in places such as North Minneapolis, where young children have been victims of gunfire in their neighborhoods.
She said it doesn't mean these areas are inherently violent, but adds they need help in reducing shootings.
"We call it a public health emergency," said Evans Mack, "and there is a disparity in the ways in which we actually talk about gun safety in Black communities."
She said she feels there's not enough education provided about things such as trigger locks, safe storage or the consequences of straw gun purchases. Instead, she said these communities are simply told to end the violence on their own.
Protect Minnesota has worked to provide some prevention tools in underserved areas. Elsewhere, Ramsey County has expanded its free gun-lock initiative.
As for schools, Stephanie Burrage - deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education - said even smaller-scale incidents on campus can have major effects.
She recalled her own experience while working in the Robbinsdale School District, and the response went well beyond helping students. Burrage had to provide emotional support for a teacher when the school reopened.
"And just to be able to take each step," said Burrage, "and I remember walking with her and I told her and I said 'I'm gonna walk this with you.' Because we do have to be here for the kids."
She said the department is focused on hearing what districts might need in terms of us support, including guidance on safety plans.
Meanwhile, the Children's Defense Fund urges policymakers to rid these environments of opportunities for shootings by adopting common-sense gun reforms.
While the U.S. Senate is discussing a bipartisan package, broader partisan divides remain.
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