The more that the nation learns about the devastating shooting in Florida, the more it is clear that system failures and legal loopholes, combined with an avalanche of family, school and law enforcement breakdowns, enabled a troubled teen to slip through the cracks and onto a destructive path that senselessly took 17 lives. America has been here before, yet nothing changed in the aftermath. This time feels different, and there is hope that challenging issues can be resolved. Such solutions require a different kind of leadership.
Already, conversations are happening from the White House to the Capitol of Florida. Town hall meetings are occurring on TV, online and in communities around the country. Political leaders are weighing in with surprising open-mindedness while many pundits are undermining the debate with divisive rhetoric. Conversations are impressively being led, not by politicians or even parents, but by high school students.
The federal government clearly has a role to play in protecting the Second Amendment rights and safety of American citizens. Driving action and accountability to deal with bump-stocks, assault weapons and background checks requires legislative branch leadership and executive branch enforcement. There are, however, many things that can and must be done to end gun violence and school shootings at the state and local level.
The Safe UT app is a local solution that every Utah student can carry in their pocket. From a student’s cellphone, the app provides ways to submit tips about threats to schools or violent behavior and gives access to on-call professionals for suicide crisis situations. The app has triggered a response to 60 incidents in Utah where either a planned attack was thwarted or someone with a gun was prevented from entering a school.
States can also effectively promote a culture of gun safety. Gun safety, starting with trigger locks, which are available for free in Utah, along with safe and secure storage of weapons and ammunition, doesn’t require an act of Congress. It is a culture of safety that can be led by gun enthusiasts as well as those opposed to gun ownership.
Local communities are the best place to begin uncomfortable conversations about mental health and violence in movies and video games. Each community knows the issues they need to address, especially with their teenagers, and how to best tackle them. Communities understand their needs far better than Congress ever could.
President Donald Trump has expressed openness to changes in the law for bump-stocks and background checks. He listened to students and grieving parents this week. There will likely be a blue-ribbon panel of some sort created. The country could give out blue ribbons for the countless blue-ribbon panels Washington has created over the years. These committees draft long reports but rarely propel lasting change.
Trump should lead in a different way. The president should convene a nationwide conference of all governors for a meeting on guns, violence and safety in schools.
With every governor in America on the line, the president should say, “I am not bringing you to Washington for this conversation because the solution isn’t here. It is with all of you in your states and communities. I am calling on you to work with your communities, schools, businesses, faith groups and your legislatures to do everything possible to address this crisis in our country. Governors, you are closer to the people, you can innovate, engage and creatively find solutions. We will reconvene in 30 days, and I look forward to hearing your reports of what is working in your state. Remember, every step matters and can make a difference.”
That kind of leadership would lead the country out of the Florida tragedy, past the partisan divide and toward solving the current crisis of gun violence in America.
Utah could and should lead out in such dialogue and solutions.