CMS has a gun problem, but the problem is bigger than CMS

CMS has a gun problem, but the problem is bigger than CMS
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The school year is only about half over, but to date 23 guns have been found on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools campuses.

Those numbers certainly indicate that CMS has a gun problem. It’s coupled with what superintendent Earnest Winston calls a “crisis of student aggression.”

But CMS’s gun problem is part of a bigger reality that is the City of Charlotte’s gun problem. It’s a microcosm of an even greater trend plaguing schools across the United States.

Why it matters: School is a place where kids are collectively and undoubtedly meant to feel safe. But for a lot of children, that’s not the case.

  • “They feel like they’re in a war zone and they’re scared to death of being caught without a gun,” Greg Jackson, founder of HEAL Charlotte, tells Axios.

Driving the news: Following the deadly school shooting in Michigan, and a rising number of guns found at CMS schools, superintendent Winston last month sent a letter to parents, using the “crisis of student aggression” language.

  • He added that he was ordering clear backpacks for area high schools. Many of them will arrive in February.
  • The majority of the guns CMS has found this academic year have been in the possession of high schoolers, the Observer reported.

Who’s to blame? Ask some folks, and they’ll say CMS isn’t doing enough or spending its money wisely. Ask CMS, and they’ll tell you parents must act.

  • Zoom out and ask anyone who’s watching this play out elsewhere, and they’ll tell you it’s a combination of issues, including guns being stolen from cars and winding up in young hands, or growing gaps between rich and poor, or any number of other things.
  • U.S. schools saw a record number of acts of gun violence in 2021, the Washington Post reported recently.

“It’s a mistake to blame any one group,” says Nancy Guerra, a professor whose research focuses on preventing youth violence and promoting healthy childhood development.

How we got here: “The pandemic, staying in the house, lack of resources,” is what Jackson told me.

“It was bad before, but now it’s gotten awful,” says Lisa Crawford, executive director of Mothers of Murdered Offspring (MOM-O), an organization that works hand-in-hand with families of violence victims in Charlotte.

Context: The past three years have been among the deadliest on record for the city.

  • 2020 saw 117 homicides, most since the early 1990s. And 102 of them were gun-related, according to CMPD.
  • The number of homicides dropped in 2021, but guns were still the most prevalent weapon used in those cases: CMPD tells me that of the 97 homicides between Jan. 1 and Dec. 29, 84 were gun-related.

What’s being done: Aside from ordering clear backpacks, CMS will:

  • Double the number of random safety screenings.
  • Consider adding metal detectors and wands.
  • Partner with CMPD to reward anonymous tips that lead to the confiscation of weapons on campuses.

What they’re saying: Two weeks before students were dismissed for winter break, Winston addressed families again, this time in a video pleading with parents to “have the tough conversations about guns, other weapons, and fights,” and to “check their backpacks before they depart for school.”

We can all do more, the people I talked to said. “Keep having conversations, not only with your own immediate family but the ones in your community,” says Crawford.

  • “Parents are the first line of defense,” says Guerra, suggesting they be on the lookout for warning signs.

Yes, but: “It’s about getting that mom extra support,” says Jackson, adding that “starts inside schools.”

The bottom line: There is no single solution or person to blame.

  • Guerra suggests short-term prevention methods like helping kids talk through their crises, and controlling access to guns.
  • Long-term solutions include working with parents and schools to create intervention programs and changing public policy to regulate gun sales.

What’s next: Jackson proposes we start the new year with a clear focus — prioritizing reducing violence and changing gun culture inside schools.

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