Opinion: There are plenty of bipartisan ways to make Iowa schools safer

We have methods to protect our schools that have nothing to do with reforming gun laws.


Ben Allen Smith

Guns are displayed at Scheels in Coralville on Tuesday, April 11. The Iowa House recently accepted the stand-your-ground-provision, an amendment to HF 517, which permits an individual to use deadly force when their life is in danger.

Jason O'Day, Columnist

After every school shooting, millions debate the same hackneyed talking points on guns. These discussions typically ignore state and local K-12 policies that have proven effective, and fall under the radar because they don’t create nearly the level of controversy that gun control does.

I recently sat down with Iowa Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, to discuss school safety. Cournoyer said her political career began inadvertently in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. At the time, she was president of the Pleasant Valley Junior High PTA. Her children were the same age as the victims. She contacted her school board member to inquire what was being done to ensure student safety.

She said she was angry when the board member neglected to return her calls and emails, so she began attending meetings and noticed the board member was often missing. At the encouragement of a friend, she ran for the seat and won. While on the Pleasant Valley School Board, she helped to staff more school-resource officers and install interlocking doors.

She also supported the use of an app that allows students to alert school officials and law enforcement when they see or hear anything potentially dangerous. This is an essential step.

For example, former high-school classmates of the Dayton shooter said they noticed he frequently made violent threats. Several students reported those threats to law enforcement, but nothing was done. A similar pattern of psychotic behavior was revealed in the Parkland shooter.

Cournoyer said young Iowans should understand what it means to make a difference in politics, and thoroughly study an issue before approaching elected officials to lobby for change. She mentioned a student group that came to the Pleasant Valley School Board after the Parkland shooting to advocate for safer schools, seemingly unaware of changes that had already been implemented there.

“I didn’t just sit there and do a hashtag and retweet stuff,” Cournoyer said. “I actually ran for the school board, and I have worked hard to make schools the safest place you can be, because we want you focused on learning and we want you to feel safe when you’re here.”

The senator added she was happy to see the students engaged and said they did the right thing by approaching the school board to help prevent shootings.

The sad reality is that policies may not deter all from committing school shootings. An evil, minute fraction of the population is diabolical enough to carry out deranged fantasies of rampage-style murder on innocent students no matter how many laws are passed. The frequency of school shootings is actually quite low considering America’s large and vast population. Regardless, one school shooting is far too many.

Fortunately, there are many different school policies, such as interlocking doors, mental-health programs, technology for reporting potential threats, and increased staffing of school-resource officers to reduce the likelihood of such tragedies.

More robust school security is easily attainable without compromising the God-given and constitutionally sanctioned gun rights of law-abiding citizens.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.