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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Think like parents

| Saturday, March 3, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Parents and police stand by as students head back to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. With a heavy police presence, classes resumed for the first time since 17 students and teachers were fatally shot there, allegedly by a former student, on Feb. 14. (Mike Stocker | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Parents and police stand by as students head back to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. With a heavy police presence, classes resumed for the first time since 17 students and teachers were fatally shot there, allegedly by a former student, on Feb. 14. (Mike Stocker | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

“In loco parentis, ” the Latin phrase that means “in the place of the parent,” has long been used to describe schools' responsibility to their students. And it deserves a fresh look, since too many public officials have forgotten what it means to be a parent.

The Manchester Warehousemen and Clerks Orphans School, founded in 1855 in England, adopted in loco parentis as its motto, setting the standard for schools there and here. And for a long time, schools assumed the full role of parents, providing academic, social and moral training.

Over the years, especially in this country, that parental role has changed. Students' constitutional rights have been asserted and tested, and student discipline is now subject to uniform rules, not the broader discretion parents have in the home. In spite of those changes, though, the basic roles of schools and teachers remain. And while their first responsibility is to educate, nothing good can happen in our schools unless society can protect our children from danger.

That is not a duty that educators alone can meet. We all stand in loco parentis when it comes to protecting our children.

In some communities, schools have been the safe places, havens from the danger of the streets. Parents, teachers and community leaders have struggled to keep children in school, believing they could rest easy, at least for a few hours every day.

But that is no longer true. Across the country, in poor and rich communities, too, our children have no place left to hide. Gunmen, armed with battlefield weapons, have taken our schools by storm.

According to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, there have been 239 school shootings across the country since 20 first-graders and four adults were slaughtered with an assault weapon at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. As a result of all these incidents, 438 people were shot, 138 fatally.

As reported by The New York Times, four or more people were shot in 16 of these incidents, making them mass shootings. All occurred on school property during school hours, and the nation has averaged about five school shootings every month.

Still, our leaders dawdle, fret, wring their hands and offer prayers and sympathy. And that's it. All the while, they do nothing.

But a recent study by Mark Gius, a Quinnipiac University economics professor, shows there is one reform that could make a difference. He has determined that a federal ban on assault weapons would help. “Assault weapons bans reduced the number of school shooting victims by 54.4 percent,” Gius wrote in the journal Applied Economics Letters.

While mass school shootings are still a small percentage of the murders that occur in America, the horror they cause greatly outstrips their statistical prominence. That is the nature of terrorism. Students are afraid to attend school, and parents are afraid to send them.

Banning assault weapons will not solve the entire problem, but it is a start. As good parents, we need a strong first step to protect our children.

This is the message the politicians need to hear: THINK LIKE PARENTS.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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