Call for stricter gun laws, school-based interventions
By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis – A gunman opened fire Oct. 24 at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, killing health teacher Jean Kuczka and 15-year-old student Alex Bell and injuring seven others before he was killed in a shootout with police.
“Our prayers and concern are with the students, their families and the staff after this tragic shooting, and we mourn the loss of our member,” said Ray Cummings, president of American Federation of Teachers (AFT St. Louis) Local 420. “I have long dreaded the day that St. Louis would join the list of communities ravaged by school-based gun violence. And while our schools have managed to remain mostly safe spaces up until now, the reality is that the streets and communities of St. Louis have been plagued by senseless gun fatalities for too long.
“Our state has some of the weakest gun laws in the country,” Cummings said. “[This] tragedy is a reminder that we must do far more to protect all Missourians and make our schools and our neighborhoods safe and welcoming.”
Authorities said the 19-year-old gunman entered the school armed with an AR-15-style rifle, 600 rounds of ammunition, and more than a dozen high-capacity magazines – all legally purchased. Missouri does not have an age limit to buy an AR-15, nor are there background checks or permits required to carry high-capacity guns – whether loaded or unloaded – in public.
EPIDEMIC OF GUN VIOLENCE
AFT President Randi Weingarten thanked first responders “for their quick and fearless action saving countless others.
“As more details emerge about today’s tragedy, the simple truth remains: The epidemic of gun violence in our communities is a public health risk to us all. Schools should be the one place where students, teachers and the entire educational community feel safest – yet today, another school has been ravaged by senseless violence.
“The time to talk about stronger, commonsense gun safety measures – including a ban on weapons of war, as well as mental health supports – is right now, while we grieve this horrific loss with the Central community.”
FAR TOO COMMON
“Gun violence, which has no place in our schools or communities, has become far too common,” said Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO. “Our educators, our children and their parents should not feel as though they are risking their lives each time they step foot into a classroom. They deserve to have the safety and freedom to work and learn without fear.
“Nationally, there have been more than 545 mass shootings since January of this year — an unacceptable and unconscionable number. Now is the time for action, and we call on our legislators in Washington and at every level to take action to ensure that our schools and workplaces are safe places for everyone.”
Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) President Dan Montgomery noted IFT members had gathered in St. Louis just days before for the IFT convention only a few miles from the high school.
“Our deep sadness over this news strengthens our resolve to fight to end senseless gun violence in this country,” Montgomery said. “It is a public health crisis of the highest degree.”
During the IFT convention, 500 IFT delegates heard from March for Our Lives founder and Parkland School shooting survivor David Hogg and fellow activist Trevon Bosley about the lasting trauma that students are facing due to gun violence.
“These shootings have devasting effects on the mental health of everyone involved,” Montgomery said.
“To help address this public health crisis, our union passed two resolutions to prevent mass violence by increasing student services in schools and keeping students safe with common sense gun safety. It is imperative that students receive school-based interventions; school districts must hire more counselors, psychologists and social workers to provide critical student support services.”
Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 President Genie Kastrup, whose union represents service employees at the school, noted that hundreds of Local 1 workers and their families call St. Louis home.
“My heart breaks for the children and parents in St. Louis who have had their lives forever changed today,” Kastrup said. “This cannot be normal we accept – we must demand action.”