WASHINGTON — Inside the office of Utah Congresswoman Mia Love last week, the talk quickly turned to guns, students and school safety. She said she wants to be part of the solution on ending gun violence in schools. So, apparently, does the rest of Utah's congressional delegation, all of whom voted for the STOP School Violence Act of 2018 on Wednesday in the House.
So does the Deseret News, which Monday will bring about 30 high school students together to learn how to have an elevated dialogue, expand their vision of what they can do to be effective agents for change, and help them be leaders at a time when the nation is listening to them. But more on that in a minute.
Reps. Love, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Rob Bishop were part of the 407 yes votes (10 others in the U.S. House voted no) to authorize $50 million to improve school safety. It's not a lot, but it's a start.
That $50 million is designed to allow schools to develop threat assessment systems and build strategies to enable anonymous reporting by students, teachers or others of threats. The money can also be used to help with technology or personnel to improve school safety.
The action makes good on the challenge given Congress by Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina, one of the 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was shot and killed on Valentine's Day. His message in testimony to lawmakers was this: Find common ground and act.
Other measures remain on the table, like eliminating bump stocks, raising the legal age to buy an AR-type rifle, improving background checks and enhancing the reporting of criminal histories so there is a better network of prevention.
One other notable suggestion explored by both Stewart and Love this week as Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson and I visited with them is finding a judicial process to prevent guns from getting in the wrong hands at the wrong time. It's the ability to have family members or others seek a type of temporary restraining order against an individual who may be unstable and in need of help. Such an action could help prevent crises without necessarily creating a record that would prevent future gun possession. It's an idea with merit.
In addition to his testimony to Congress, Petty encouraged high school students last week to "walk up, not out" as they planned their Wednesday event. That's what Alessa Love was doing at her high school in Saratoga Springs, while her mother was voting in Congress for the STOP School Violence Act.
Alessa is a student at Westlake High School. She's concerned about those at the school who may feel disenfranchised or cut off from others. The school was supportive of the "walk up, not out" effort and put the following on its website:
"Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group. Walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room and sit next to her, smile and say, 'hi.' Walk up to the kid who causes a disturbance in class and ask how he is doing. Walk up to your teachers and thank them. Walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know them – you may be surprised at how much you have in common.
The point is, how do you make a moment a movement? And what is this movement?
To keep kids safe at school.
"Protests, gatherings, walk-outs or walk-ups are all important. Sadly, that is where many of them end. The Deseret News wants to convene students to help them have the skills, tools and mindset to transcend protest to get to progress," Matheson said.
So Monday is another step, as the students, invited by the Deseret News, will gather to learn tools that will help them "get beyond the march" and apply their knowlege, whether their focus is safety, mental health, guns, violence in the media, or any other issue that is potentially compromising our youth.
"In other parts of the country, some student activity has confused anger as an agenda or frustration as a platform," Matheson said. "Utah students can help lead out in the national discussion and demonstrate how protest can draw attention, but how strategic, sustained conversations can lead to progress."
Alessa will be at the Monday meeting, learning and lending her voice to the effort. It, too, is just a start. But maybe it can lead to more common ground among the adults so that the vote her mother took Wednesday becomes just the first of many steps toward change that really will keep our children safe at school.