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Organization Invites Educators to 'Play Defense' in Fight Against Guns in K-12 Schools

"When we show up, we win."

Shannon Watts founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America the day after the Sandy Hook shooting, starting a Facebook page that has now turned into a movement represented by a chapter in every single U.S. state.

According to Watts in a phone interview with Education World, her and her organization are perfecting how to be the "David to the National Rifle Association's Goliath," playing defense in an escalating war that involves allowing—even forcing—guns in schools beyond in the hands of trained security professionals.

"We are not sending our kids [to school] to learn to duck and cover," and "we are not preparing our educators to be sharp shooters," Watts said in response to legislation that allows guns in K-12 schools.

Watts' efforts at playing defense have proven to be effective. Out of 15 states that proposed allowing guns in K-12 schools last year, Watts says her organization stopped it in 14.

"Before there were no boots on the ground to show up in these statehouses," she said, "but when we show up, we win."

And show up they will. A big goal in 2017 for Moms Demand Action is to take on an administration that will be supportive of the NRA and therefore guns in schools.

Given the fact that NRA was the single largest outside donor of President Donald Trump's campaign, Watts anticipates they will want a return on their investment. That was obvious when, while campaigning, Trump argued he would abolish gun-free zones his very first day in office.

It was also obvious when Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, made an infamous comment during her hearing about allowing local communities to decide whether or not to allow guns in schools; when Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) asked DeVos where she stands, she said that some schools, like ones in rural areas, might need guns to defend against "grizzlies". Overall, DeVos said she would support Trump in whatever he decides.

"The bottom line," Watts said, "is that her comments show that she does not understand the seriousness of allowing guns in schools and what those polices actually mean."

"The idea that we are going to volunteer teachers into [becoming] expert sharp shooters is an urban legend perpetuated by the gun lobby," Watts notes, which was itself opposed to guns in schools until 1999.

"...We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools period with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel. We believe America's schools should be as safe as America's airports. You can't take about, much less take, guns, bombs on airplanes," said NRA'’s chief Wayne LaPierre in an annual NRA meeting in 1999.

Over a decade later, LaPierre would change his tune, which Watts said was done to address a changing demographic and to expand the NRA's marketplace.

Following the Sandy Hook shooting, LaPierre said:

"The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids," is to place a "good guy with a gun" in America's schools.

NRA began to adopt this new position over the course of time as the debate for increased security measures in public areas like schools intensified, though LaPierre notably gave his 1999 speech only a month after the Columbine shootings.

In 2013, the group of released a 225-page report urging "states to loosen gun restrictions to allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons," reported The New York Times.

A big part of the NRA's current agenda Watts says, is to now "put guns in schools and on college campuses," not as part of a "public safety service [but as] a craven marketing ploy."

For educators concerned about the infiltration of guns in their classrooms, Watts has a message.

"Get involved, get off the sideline, and say this impacts me as an educator and I need to speak out against what is clearly wrong."

"People listen to experts and educators are the experts in this case."

To read more about Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and to find out how to get involved, see here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

1/30/2017

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