Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, along with a member who is a Sandy Hook shooting survivor, discuss how our new reality raises the stakes on the epidemic of gun violence in communities.

Millions of educators across the United States have moved to online classrooms since the coronavirus pandemic has driven us to hunker down and physically distance from each other. Our members within the American Federation of Teachers union are learning how to transform lessons and provide feedback through new technologies. We’re learning how to connect with our students virtually and how to convey new concepts across computer screens. 

Amidst teaching the best way we know how, juggling our own children’s home learning, and dealing with the fears and anxieties surrounding this relentless virus, we are faced with the fact that, at least for now, this is our new normal. 

We’re not even close to understanding the consequences and aftermath of this pandemic—the death toll, economic and psychological effects, and so much more. We’re especially concerned about the trauma and anxiety people, especially students, are facing both now and when life settles down again. As educators, nearly half of our students were already facing these issues; we can imagine that number will only go up. These consequences mean that the counselors, nurses, and mental health supports we have always fiercely advocated for are all the more critical now.

Our new reality also raises the stakes on an epidemic we were facing long before COVID-19, and it’s an epidemic we have to keep fighting: gun violence in our communities. Research shows that since this crisis began, there’s been an uptick of gun and ammunition purchases—many by first-time buyers with little or no training. 

One of us is a survivor of gun violence, and we can both say for sure: Now is not the time to put families—many of whom are isolated at home—at further risk. 

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In this March 15, 2020, file photo, people wait in line to enter a gun store in Culver City, Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

The National Rifle Association leadership wants us to believe that more guns make us safer, but the evidence proves the opposite is true. And with President Trump classifying gun stores, ranges, and manufacturers as essential, these outlets have a green light to pour more lethal weapons into our communities. Just like they do after mass shootings, the gun lobby is profiting off of our fear during this time—fear that societal structures will break down, that systems in place to keep us safe and respond to emergencies will cease operation. Their message is this: We will have to take law and order into our own hands. 

While there is rampant uncertainty about nearly everything right now, we cannot give in to this fearmongering, particularly when, in reality, more guns will only lead to more harm. 

Schools strive to be safe havens for kids: a source of consistency, structure and healthy meals and a protected environment. Now that they’re home 24/7, children can be more at risk due to food and home insecurity, child abuse, stress, loss of household income, increased isolation and exposure to firearms. We may also see possible increases in suicides and domestic violence, which we know can be more lethal when guns are easily accessible. Up to 4.6 million children already live in homes with unsecured loaded guns. 

When this pandemic ends and we emerge from this physical distancing reality, the guns will remain. Will they add to the staggering statistics of gun violence in America? Will there be increased mass shootings, school shootings, shootings at home, at work, at concerts? Since the tragedy at my beloved Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 children and six educators were killed, there have been more than 2,400 mass shootings. And mass shootings make up only a small portion of gun deaths in our country. Will we have learned anything from this most recent crisis?

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Educators and healthcare workers are worried about our students, who are home from school doing their best to learn how to find common denominators and tell the difference between similes and metaphors. We’re worried that they won’t all be safe from the coronavirus, and that if they do get sick, there won’t be enough doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to take care of them. There may not even be enough hospital beds. 

And now, on top of the virus, we are worried about the unlocked, loaded guns already in too many homes, and about the new guns and ammunition being stockpiled. 

Even in a global pandemic, guns are putting children in danger at home, in the streets and in our communities. We’re not sure sleep is coming anytime soon.