Saturday, February 6 , 2016, 11:01 am | Fair 63º

Bill Cirone: Stemming Gun Violence for the Safety of Our Children

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools |

Wounds remain raw after the horrific tragedy that struck Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. As President Barack Obama said at the memorial service, we have been through this too many times as a nation. We have to change. We have to protect our children.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof asked a very telling question in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy: Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?

“The fundamental reason kids are dying in massacres like this one is not that we have lunatics or criminals — all countries have them — but that we suffer from a political failure to regulate guns,” he wrote.

The National Rifle Association asked for an armed guard at every school in the nation, but there was an armed guard on duty at Columbine High School during that tragedy, and the armed guards that abounded at Fort Hood were unable to avert the mass murder that occurred there a few short years ago as well.

For the sake of our children, people from all parts of our society are now asking for reasonable restrictions on assault weapons and better controls on who has access to ownership.

Former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough, an ardent gun supporter, wrote: “The ideologies of my past career are no longer relevant to the future that I want for my children. Friday changed everything. ... We all must demand that Washington’s old way of doing business is no longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don’t have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America. And our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever … they want. It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas.”

Kristof urged that we treat firearms as the center of a public health crisis that claims one life every 20 minutes.

He pointed out that in school buildings nationwide, building codes govern stairways and windows. School buses have to pass safety standards, and those who drive them need to pass tests. We regulate school cafeteria food for safety.

“The only thing we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill,” he said.

There are five pages of regulations regarding ladders, which kill about 300 people each year in this country. Guns kill 30,000 Americans each year.

“What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and … politicians who won’t stand up to the NRA?” he asked.

Kristof wrote that as a lifelong gun owner, he knows that guns are fun. But so are cars, and we accept that we have to wear seat belts, use headlights at night and fill out registration forms. Our driving backgrounds are checked when we seek a license, and we mandate air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have limited licenses for young drivers and curbed the use of cell phones while driving. In doing so, we have reduced traffic fatality rates by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s.

Some argue that restrictions won’t make a difference because crazy people or criminals will always be able to get a gun. And they will. We won’t ever be able to eliminate gun deaths all together, just like laws governing cars will never eliminate car accidents. But reducing gun deaths even by one-third would mean 10,000 lives saved each year.

Here’s another sobering statistic Kristof cites: “More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.” Read that one again.

Kristof said that many of us are alive today because of sensible auto safety laws.

“If we don’t treat guns in the same serious way, some of you and some of your children will die because of our failure,” he wrote.

Now is the time to take a stand for the safety of our children and our families. We need to initiate discussions that lead to serious policy changes. As another famous quote dictates: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

As a new year begins, it is a good time to turn a new page on this wrenching problem.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

» on 01.03.13 @ 07:40 PM

I don’t intend to get into a debate about gun control but thought I should respond to some of the superficial statements made by Cirone.

He said there was an armed guard at Columbine during the tragedy. I have provided a link below to a CNN report from that time indicating the guard was not at the school; in fact, he was having lunch in his car off campus. Also, is Cirone aware that a federal law enacted in 1994, which banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, was in effect in 1999? Didn’t seem to prevent the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre from possessing the weapons which were already banned by that law.

If this is an example of the analytical and fact-finding capabilities of our so-called educational leaders, no wonder why our public schools are failing our children.

PS. Switzerland has a higher per capita rate of gun ownership than the United States, although it has virtually no gun crime. Sweden, Germany, Austria, France and Finland all have relatively high gun ownership rates with fewer gun-related deaths.

PPS. Obviously any violence in our schools is unacceptable, but let’s not forget that mass shootings of this type in our schools are still very rare. The leading cause of deaths for children is unintended injuries. Car accidents, drug overdoses, suicides are a much greater problem than homicidal violence against children. Of the 36,000 deaths for ages 0-19 in the United States, only around 2,000 resulted from the use of firearms in a homicide. Only a handful occur in our schools. Over 11,000 were associated with unintentional injuries, of which 6,700 were from motor vehicle accidents. There are over 90 million children in the US.

» on 01.04.13 @ 09:41 AM

By Lou’s reasoning, we should have an armed guard in every school and prohibit them from taking lunch or bathroom breaks while children are on the premises. OK, maybe we’ll need two armed guards in every school, or maybe every classroom and the front office, or maybe every teacher should be armed.  Where would it stop?

Yes, we have car accidents, and school bus accidents, too. But related to vehicle ownership and miles driven, the incidence of gun deaths (homicides and suicides in addition to accidents) is much higher. I suppose a mentally ill person could commandeer a semi and drive it into a school, theater, or church and commit mass murder—so why restrict heavy weapons and gun clips?

In other words, Lou is saying, do nothing to prevent future tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, etc. Now, that’s specious reasoning.

» on 01.04.13 @ 11:36 AM

Two things.  First, there is no constitutional provision to car ownership.  There is no amendment that says, “the right to keep and bear a car shall not be infringed.”  Taking a look at the 2nd amendment, there are three key words here, “keep, bear,” and “infringed.”  The work “keep” means to have in one’s possession.  The word “bear” means to have on your person.  And the word “infringed,” in the phrase, “shall not be infringed,” means that you cannot actively control it through lawful means.  Clearly, this has been consistently violated by the government over the years, but there it is.  If we are to be a lawful society, you either respect the 2nd amendment or you change it.  The constitution provides a method for changing it.  If you don’t change it and ignore it, we are no longer a state that is covered under the rule of law, that is to say, we have become a tyranny. 

Second, when you pass laws to control things you don’t like, but the people want it anyway, you develop a black market.  A perfect example is the war on drugs. How successful is that?  Drug use is at an all-time high, including its use in many of our schools, yet it is still illegal.  If you take away all law-abiding folks guns, only the criminals will have them, leaving the law-abiding and our children at the mercy of criminals.  For those who demand the ability to protect themselves, they will become criminals.

Further, gun homicides from 2005 through 2009 averaged a TOTAL of less than 10,000 per year (FBI crime statistics).  How can you reduce that by a third and get 10,000 fewer deaths?  Please, get your story straight!

» on 01.04.13 @ 12:53 PM

Protest all you want but something must be done. Our children are being shot in schools. That should end all reasonable debate.

» on 01.04.13 @ 01:37 PM

to MissBKnodel

Like I said, if that is how you feel, change the 2nd Amendment.  Or take a more proactive approach and allow teachers and administrators who are willing and able to take the necessary initial and recurrent training to carry concealed.  I ache for that principal at Sandy Hook whose only weapon she had against that nut-job was to hurl herself at him and get cut down in the process. 

Or, you can take the control approach; invoke tyranny against the law-abiding and let the criminals go unchecked.

» on 01.04.13 @ 03:08 PM

The arms used at the Sandy Hook school murder were legally obtained in a restrictive environment. They were stolen from their lawful owner who was murdered in her sleep by the thief, her son.

Short of a complete government confiscation of all legally obtained weapons, thus stripping law abiding citizens of their constitutional rights no gun control would have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy.

This is the fact that the anti gun nuts continue to ignore and for one reason only, they indeed want a total government confiscation of all legally obtained weapons. That would leave, as Glasair2 has alluded to, only the government, the largest, most indebted and protected by the world’s most powerful military and criminals armed.

I ask you anti gun nuts, after you pull your knee out of your forehead, recover from the concussion it caused and begin to think logically and rationally, is that what you really want? Mind you, gun confiscation requires lawful participation, criminals are by their nature lawless, so don’t count on them to just voluntarily give it up.

The gun genie was let out of the bottle before our country was formed. Putting it back would take the kind of government that Germans, Soviets, Chinese, Cubans, Cambodians, Vietnamese and any other peoples who have suffered under brutal totalitarian, fascist or tyrannical despotism experienced.

» on 01.04.13 @ 03:56 PM

Assault weapons have been banned since the 1930’s.  An assault weapon is capable of fully automatic fire, three shot bursts, or single shots and has a removable magazine.  What many people are now calling “assault weapons” are not, in fact, assault weapons.  According to the current incorrect usage, a 22 calibre Boy Scout target rifle with a skeleton stock, iron sights, and a front handle grip is an “assault weapon”.  NOT!

CA has the most restrictive state gun laws in the nation and is in the top 10 in gun crimes.  Chicago has the most restrictive city gun laws in the nation and is the murder capital of the US.  Florida has seen a long term decline in gun crimes against residents in the 25 years since they passed a right to carry law (but interestingly, not in gun crimes against tourists - can anyone do the logic here?).

This is a serious issue.  Let’s make rational decisions based on facts instead of inflammatory and incorrect allegations (are ya listening, Feinstein?)

BTW, Feinstein is higlighting the Columbine issue as evidence that guards don’t work.  Well, sure, not if the guard is not present.  Or maybe we should consider something like the Air Marshall program, wherein there MIGHT be an armed guard, or several, in any given school on any given day.  Been pretty effective so far.

» on 01.05.13 @ 01:40 AM

Bill - it’s time for you to read the laws of the State of CA.  We have _very_ restrictive laws regarding guns, automatic weapons, ammunition types, handguns, background searches, waiting periods, restrictions on gun possession for convicted felons, etc.  Very restrictive laws.  Why go on in your article as if these laws don’t exist?  We also have restrictions on guns in school zones, and more.

Let’s quit pandering to the guns are bad crowd, shall we?

Larry Correia writes in detail about weapons use, training, and makes an argument for arming teachers—because they are the only ones in a position to cut minutes to seconds if there is a problem.  I won’t argue one way or another, but here is his article:

Please, please, please—elected and appointed officials.  Let’s get the facts straight regarding the laws in our state. Please read the law _before_ you write your articles.

» on 01.05.13 @ 03:08 AM

I should also add that although the Columbine armed guard was not on school grounds when the shooting started, he was the first one on the scene and exchanged gunfire with the shooters until the SWAT teams arrived. There is no doubt there would have been more lives lost that day if this armed guard was not assigned to the school. For Cirone to suggest that the armed guard didn’t prevent the massacre ignores that this individual probably saved many lives.

I agree oldtimer - you would hope our elected officials and those in positions of responsibility would at least get the facts straight before writing specious articles.

» on 01.05.13 @ 03:25 AM

To expand on my previous comment, I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that having an armed guard at every school would not either prevent these massacres or at least reduce fatalities. The real issue is whether the cost of assigning a guard to every school is prohibitively expensive and really warranted considering these events are extremely rare.

» on 01.05.13 @ 09:32 AM

Which gets back to my argument that teachers and administrators should be able to volunteer to be trained to carry concealed.  Our founding fathers considered the average person to be not only capable but also responsible enough to be trusted with arms.  Why don’t we?  We don’t because of the nanny-state attitude that has been drummed into our and our children’s heads.  With armed volunteers, the cost factor is not nearly as bad (volunteers should be given a bonus and have their training covered.) 

Any nut-job walking onto campus and opening fire would be met with counter fire almost immediately.  Attackers almost always shoot themselves or give up as soon as they are met with armed resistance.  Additionally, the students and the potential attachers should not know who is armed.  This prevents an attacker from going after the uniformed guard first.  We don’t know who the air marshals are, so there is no reason to know who the armed teachers are. 

Gun-free zones need to be eliminated - they are nothing more than opportunities for killing fields.

» on 01.05.13 @ 02:13 PM

So don’t assign one to each school.  Use the Air Marshall program as a model.

» on 01.06.13 @ 02:23 AM

More controls will not prevent or weaken the ability of crazy people to get and use guns. I recall when there were 1 room school houses and crazy idiots stood out as strange and they had no one to lean on who thought like them. They were signaled out identified and ostracized for their craziness. With todays centralized teaching and immediate access to like minded thinkers, the crazy people of this earth really feel they have a majority on their side and will become heroes if they fulfill their crazy thoughts. I sincerely believe that Bill Cirone is the finest thing to happen to education in this county and I ordinarily agree with him but not this time.
I honestly believe we should think this thing out rationally and not emotionally one way or another. We should list the positive aspects of permitting guns to be owned such as why are we not speaking Japanese today (I have heard true or not, that the Japanese who could have invaded America did not do so because of gun ownership by the masses) Am I wrong? and publishing some of the good that guns have done. I am not a gun owner nor do I expect to purchase one in the future. I just believe the issue should be debated and sincerely pray that truth will surface if at all possible to discover some truth or action which will be discovered which will work.

» on 01.06.13 @ 03:17 AM

Youngat85, Cirone may be a fine person, but could you tell me what the County Education Office does? They spend $60 million, almost 60% of the Santa Barbara Unified School District. The County Office has around 600 students and the SBUSD somewhere on the order of 13,000. Although Cirone is a Superintendent, he has no line authority for any school district in the county, as all districts have their own superintendent and boards. This seems like to me an enormous waste of money.

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