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January 26, 2024

Biden looks to schools on safe gun storage as federal bill stalls

MOLLY INGRAM | WSHU Connecticut lawmakers announcing reintroduction of Ethan's Law bill. with Ethan's parents (L-R) Mike Song, Kristin Song, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03), and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.

The White House announced Thursday an expanded effort to promote the safe storage of guns, urging schools and principals to also take a leading role on an issue that continues to stall in Congress.

The latest initiative involves the U.S. Department of Education, tasking Secretary Miguel Cardona with sending a letter to principals, urging them to communicate with families and caregivers about securely storing guns at home and preventing gun violence at schools.

Principals and school leaders will also get other resources from federal agencies. The Education Department will provide them with a template about how to have those discussions on storage of guns and ammunition, while the U.S. Department of Justice has a detailed guide with directions and tips on storage like lock boxes, cable lock installations and the disassembly of firearms.

Officials pointed to data showing that an overwhelming majority of gun suicides by children, unintentional shootings involving children and school shootings happen with firearms obtained within their home.

“We often hear from principals that they want to do everything they can to keep their students and educators safe. But they shouldn’t have to be experts on safe storage of firearms,” Stefanie Feldman, director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, told reporters on a call.

The effort was announced the same day the White House held a town hall with 70 principals and education leaders about how safe storage of guns can help prevent school violence.

Speaking at the event, first lady Jill Biden referenced Ethan Song, a teenager from Guilford who accidentally shot himself in 2018 with an unsecured gun at a neighbor’s house.

A year later, Connecticut passed Ethan’s Law, which requires gun owners to properly store a firearm whether it is loaded or unloaded to prevent a minor or a prohibited person from accessing it. And in 2023, state lawmakers further expanded the law, along with other gun safety reforms.

Since then, gun safety advocates in Connecticut and around the country, including Kristin Song, have mounted a lobbying campaign to build more support in Congress for a federal version of Ethan’s Law.

But with a divided government, the legislation has been unable to gain enough traction to pass.

Legislation to require safe gun storage, as well as universal background checks and a federal assault weapons ban, face uphill battles in a divided Congress. Republicans narrowly control the House, while Democrats have a small majority in the Senate, requiring most legislation needing support from both parties in order to pass.

Republicans have objected to such legislation, raising concerns about infringing on gun owners’ rights. While some GOP members in Congress backed the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, they have been wary of supporting additional reforms.

Thursday’s White House initiative was introduced in the absence of federal legislation on requirements surrounding gun storage. But gun safety activists applauded the incremental step.

The group CT Against Gun Violence said it resembles its own ongoing effort, called School Firearm Safety Campaign. Board chair Melissa Kane said it is “built on the premise that safety measures taken by school officials like lockdown drills and hardening schools need to be augmented by addressing a root cause of school shootings: unsecured firearms in the home.”

Cardona, who used to serve as a principal in Meriden, acknowledged the concerns and demands placed on school leaders, especially when it comes to reducing violence in schools. He told principals at Thursday’s town hall that he believes they play a vital role and have a unique capacity to communicate with those in their communities about this issue.

“What works to engage people and families on safe firearm storage in one place may not work somewhere else. I was really clear with my team that we cannot and we will not come to school principals with a one-size-fits-all prescription and unrealistic expectations,” Cardona said.

“I know how it can feel — ‘Here we go, just another thing now that we have to do,'” he added, noting his time working as a principal in Connecticut. “But I also know this: As school principals, you have a unique ability to communicate with your school community, especially parents, in a way that’s effective and credible.”

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