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Letter to the Senate on Gun Violence Prevention/School Safety

April 16, 2013

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we wish to offer our views at the outset of debate on legislation to address the epidemic of gun violence and ensure the safety of America’s students, teachers, and support professionals who work in our nation’s schools, colleges, and universities. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress. 

NEA supports the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S. 649), as introduced by Senator Reid, which includes the School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 (S. 146) by Senator Boxer and the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 (S. 54) by Senator Leahy.  

We specifically urge you to vote YES on the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, to be offered as an amendment by Senators Manchin and Toomey. This bipartisan bill requires background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and online, and would require states and the federal government to send all necessary records on criminals and the violently mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  

We also urge you to vote YES on these expected amendments:

  • An amendment by Senator Feinstein (D-CA) to ban military-style assault weapons.
  • An amendment by Senator Blumenthal to ban high-capacity magazine clips.

An NEA member poll indicates overwhelming support for stronger gun violence prevention laws, including comprehensive and enforceable background checks to prevent dangerous people from purchasing guns. The poll also showed that educators strongly reject arming educators and other school faculty.

We believe a comprehensive approach to providing a safe and secure learning environment for students and school staff needs to include:

  • Expanded access to mental-health services.
  • Supports that allow local communities to decide for themselves what kinds of school personnel are most needed, including counselors, social workers, school resource officers, psychologists, or other professionals. In the case of school resource officers, it is imperative that they be part of a comprehensive, community-wide plan that ensures appropriate training and professional development for them and all staff—in bullying prevention, cultural competence, positive behavioral supports, and conflict management—and protects against inappropriate uses of the criminal justice system.
  • Access to resources to make necessary security enhancements to school facilities.  

Access to the services necessary to address all students’ social and emotional needs is critical. Many schools have no mental health staff and those that have such staff often ask them to fulfill responsibilities outside their area of expertise, which limits the time they can spend with students. The recommended ratio of students to counselors is no more than 250-to-1, but in some states it exceeds 1,000-to-1 and the national average is 500-to-1. The national average for students to school psychologists is 1,200-to-1. 

Students cannot learn and educators cannot teach when threatened by physical violence or harassment. They need a safe and secure learning environment. We urge you to support comprehensive legislation that addresses the full range of issues associated with keeping our nation’s students and educators safe. 

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations