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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

GUN VIOLENCE

May 21, 2018
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for allowing me to speak on this very important issue, and I thank her for leading this Special Order on this important topic, which is gun safety, especially as it relates to school safety. 

   Keeping all students and educators safe is a top priority. On Friday, we had another tragedy. A small town that few could point out on a map is now infamous. Santa Fe High School, near Galveston, Texas, experienced a mass shooting, leaving 10 dead: Eight students, two teachers. Several students said to the media, they knew this would eventually happen to them. 

   Our thoughts and prayers are with those students and with the families suffering from acts of gun violence, but enough is enough. 

   This shooting marks at least 16 shootings in schools just this year. Using the same metrics, there have been hundreds of school shootings since the April 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado: Marjory Stoneman Douglas; Sandy Hook; Columbine; Virginia Tech; and now Santa Fe. 

   We watch, year after year, as students and educators lose their lives to gun violence, both in and out of school. Yet, in the decades since Columbine, Congress has taken virtually no action. 

   Instead of ignoring these tragedies, Congress must have some hard conversations about guns, about mental health, about bullying, and about policies that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. And more than just conversation, Congress must act with policies built on evidence-based research, not slogans and sound bites. We all agree that we must do all that we can do to protect our students and prevent violence of all forms, including gun violence. 

   In the wake of Columbine, the knee-jerk reaction was to put more police in schools, invest in security infrastructure such as metal detectors, and turn our schools into fortresses. The research, based on such policies, is clear that more guns and schools built like Fort Knox will not make our students and teachers safer, and likely will negatively impact vulnerable students. 

   There is evidence that with more police in schools, they will be more likely to arrest the children than to protect the children. After Columbine, we passed legislation providing services for those caught up in the juvenile justice system, but, unfortunately, over the years, that funding has evaporated. 

   After Sandy Hook, no action was taken either. The Democratic Gun Safety Task Force made a list of recommendations of actions we could take, like an assault weapons ban, limiting the size of magazines, closing loopholes in background checks, more investments in mental health, and funding evidence-based policies that reduce crime. Unfortunately, no action has been taken on this list of initiatives. 

   Yet, we have seen virtually no action, even after the situation in Parkland, Florida. Instead, we have seen calls to arm teachers, allow racial discrimination in the name of safety, and equip every school with more armed police officers. These measures have created a culture of fear and anxiety that actually makes the school-to-prison pipeline worse, and it does nothing to increase school safety. 

   We know what needs to be done to address school shootings. We need to equip our school leaders, teachers, and parents with the resources necessary to ensure access to school-based mental health services; we need to prevent bullying and harassment; and we need to achieve safe and welcoming learning environments for all students. 

   Comprehensive and collaborative interventions will help address school violence, improve school climate, and keep students safe. Students desperately need the staff and resources to better meet the mental health needs of students. We must invest in hiring more school counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Trauma-informed care is a framework that helps all stakeholders recognize the signs of trauma and provides training on how to support children coping with trauma. 

   And we need proactive, not reactive, approaches to handling school discipline. Unfortunately, far too many schools today do not utilize the prevention interventions and, instead, rely heavily on suspensions and expulsions. The evidence is clear: the overuse of exclusionary discipline and the disparate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities robs our most vulnerable students of the opportunity to learn and to achieve. 

   In 2014, the Obama administration released a guidance package that focused on clarifying schools' obligation under Federal civil rights law to identify and address racial bias in discipline policies and practices. Those guidelines showed localities how to reduce those disparities without jeopardizing school safety. The guidance has recently been under attack from the administration and congressional Republicans, who are actually trying to claim the guidance has contributed to the school shooting in Parkland. Not only is this claim

   exploiting a tragedy to advance previous priorities, it is also factually false. 

   The guidance package, in no way, required schools to change discipline policies if disparities did not exist; and if the disparities did exist, they were not required to take any action that reduced school safety. Further, the guidance rightly pointed out that research shows suspensions and expulsions are ineffective and, actually, a harmful means of handling school discipline. 

   Mr. Speaker, Congress needs to take action because what we have done so far is not enough. We must enact commonsense gun violence prevention measures, and we must provide resources to educators and students to increase access to mental health services. I hope that as we move forward from yet another tragedy, that we can stand together, ready to support our teachers, students, and families with real, evidence-based solutions.