Commentary

Superintendent Mark Johnson needs to do much more for school safety

Image: Adobe Stock

A few months back, state schools superintendent Mark Johnson announced a partnership with a nonprofit known as the Sandy Hook Promise – a group that was formed in the aftermath of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut almost seven years ago.

The laudable goal of the partnership was to promote an anonymous reporting system called “Say Something” that would help students, educators, and administrators to recognize the signs of those who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others and to anonymously report this information to authorities.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, there’s obviously a heck of a lot more to preventing mass shootings than simply reporting worrisome individuals and situations — especially given the limited authority that public safety personnel in places like North Carolina have to take any official action.

Of late, for example, the Sandy Hook Promise folks have called loudly and regularly for laws that would a) mandate universal background checks on gun purchasers, and b) allow judges to issue extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from individuals suspected of being a danger to themselves or others. This is from a statement the group issued earlier this month in response to statements of President Trump on the mass shooting issue:

“We must all come together in action. We must speak with one voice against acts of hate targeted at persons of color. And we must also put an end to rhetoric that stigmatizes mental illness because we know that people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of gun violence. The President has called for passing Extreme Risk Protection Orders and promised change. Yet, bipartisan proposals for ERPOs and universal background checks sit stalled in Congress. We urge the President to stand by his word and prevent future tragedies before they can happen.”

Mark Johnson

Sadly, but not surprisingly, that sound you hear of crickets chirping in response to the Sandy Hook Promise demands is coming from Johnson’s office. Rather than speaking up forcefully for the safety of the hundreds of thousands of children our state commits to his oversight each day, Johnson appears to be mimicking the approach of his conservative handlers in the GOP hierarchy and their NRA buddies by simply keeping his head down and hoping the problem goes away.

Earth to Superintendent Johnson: The problem isn’t going away. We need real change now to make guns – especially weapons of war like assault rifles – less accessible. We need a state “red flag” law to get guns away from people likely to hurt themselves or others. What’s more it’s a dereliction of duty on Johnson’s part not to advocate for such policies.

After all, if our partner in protecting North Carolina’s schoolchildren can speak out forcefully on this issue, the state’s top education official can and should as well.

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