Former civil rights and criminal defense attorney Tom Dunn is a high school teacher in Atlanta and the father of three Atlanta Public School students. He wrote this piece in response to the shootings at Grady High School and Price Middle School. He teaches classes in law and justice.
By Tom Dunn
After the Feb. 27 shooting at Grady High School, my students at another Atlanta high school and I continued our discussion about guns in schools and how to make schools safer.
The students in my Introduction to Law and Justice class agreed that allegedly bringing a gun to school was wrong, no matter what the rationale may have been of accused senior Morgan Tukes. Their proposed solutions were to tighten security and gun control, or enforce the laws we have and lock up the alleged offender for a long time.
My teaching point was that the best solution was social responsibility — what we once called community.
First, someone allegedly gave Ms. Tukes that gun. Allowing a gun to get into the hands of a minor is not acceptable in any concept of community.
Tighter gun control laws and stricter enforcement of current laws would help prevent some of these problems, but that is not enough.
In the Newtown, Conn. school shootings, Adam Lanza was able to kill 20 children, six adult heroes, and his mother because adults failed him and the community. His mother was afraid to leave Lanza alone because of his mental health issues, but she kept an assault weapon, handguns, extended magazines and ammunition in their home.
His mother bears responsibility, as does every adult who knew about Lanza’s mental health issues and his mother’s love of guns. Adults in our communities must fulfill their role in guiding, teaching and protecting our children.
Second, according to reports, two students let Ms. Tukes into the school through a back door. These two students knew, or should have known, something nefarious was going on.
Whether they knew their friend was allegedly bringing in a gun would typically be a jury question. I reminded my students that if several young men are stopped in a car and drugs are found, they all get charged, even if one did not know about the presence of the drugs. My students acknowledged this truth about blindly trusting another with their future.
A student countered, “I can’t let down or snitch on a friend.”
I responded, “If her friends had refused to open the door, what would be different?” Another student answered, “Everything. The gun would not be in school.”
One student added, “She would not be in jail.” Another interjected, “She would graduate from high school.” Several offered that her life would not be “ruined.” If only Ms. Tukes’ friends had been true friends who were not afraid to stand up for her and for what is right.
Finally, I asked my students, “Do you think anyone else knew that she (allegedly) had this gun and was bringing it to school?” The majority of students agreed that someone knew.
I asked the same question about the student who allegedly shot another student at Price Middle School. A majority agreed that someone knew, but did nothing. They also agreed that both students would be better off if someone had done something to stop them.
No one did, and that is the real crime.
We need tighter gun control laws and to enforce our existing laws, but we must shoulder our responsibility to keep our children, schools, and communities safe. In every gun/school tragedy, there were multiple missed opportunities.
Our community dodged the bullet twice last month; no one died. Adults and students must listen, stand up and act. Community action is the best defense to keep guns out of our schools. We are our brothers and sisters’ keepers.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog