'Enough Is Enough'
Jill Biden unites educators and the federal government with firearm safety tools to protect children against gun violence.
In the White House’s latest call to action against gun violence, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden invited school principals to the White House Thursday to unveil new federal guidance promoting firearm safety designed to protect children.
“Enough is enough,” Biden says. “Enough pain, enough death. No more funerals.”
“Enough pain, enough death. No more funerals.”
— First Lady Dr. Jill Biden
Firearm injuries became the leading cause of death in children and teens in 2020 and 2021, recent research by the CDC shows.
The inaugural Office of Gun Violence Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) joined the White House town hall, discussing the nation’s gun violence epidemic with school leaders and their latest plan to address it. But first, Biden paid tribute to the lives lost and the lives forever changed by firearms. The first lady says some of the tragic deaths could have been prevented — by a secured gun.
As an active educator herself, the first lady says she understands what it’s like to have to think through emergency plans before the school day begins. Biden, like others, starts her semester at Northern Virginia Community College, where she has been a professor since 2009, by explaining to her students what to do “if the worst happens.”
Acknowledging the demands of educators, Biden said they, too, can help prevent violence.
“The parents in your schools trust you,” Biden says. “You can show parents that they can be part of preventing the next shooting, the next suicide, the next accident.”
“You can show parents that they can be part of preventing the next shooting, the next suicide, the next accident.”
— First Lady Dr. Jill Biden
Following Biden’s remarks, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention announced a new federal initiative to emphasize safe firearm storage — part of the Biden Administration’s overarching effort to reduce gun violence nationwide.
Biden’s initiative to speak out against gun violence in connection with children and with schools makes sense because as an educator, it’s “her thing,” according to Katherine A.S. Sibley, author and professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University.
“She's always been someone who cares about education, whether it's education at the community college level, or education for military children, or military veterans, and, of course, her own interest in children altogether,” Sibley says.
During the town hall, Stefanie Feldman, director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, explained a new firearm storage safety guide from the Department of Justice that is “the most comprehensive guide on safe storage ever released by the federal government.” It includes expertise of different types of storage devices and best practices.
“It’s not just the person that owns the gun. It really is a responsibility of the entire family.”
— Jeffrey Matthews, deputy assistant director with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives for the Department of Justice
“It’s not just the person that owns the gun. It really is a responsibility of the entire family,” Jeffrey Matthews, deputy assistant director with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives for the Department of Justice, says.
The DOE also created a template for principals and school leaders, emphasizing the importance of safe firearm storage and encouraging families to take preventative action.
Earlier in the week, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona paid a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where in 2018, 17 people were killed in a mass shooting on Valentine’s Day. He described how nearly six years later, the school was still “frozen in time.”
“I walked over shattered glass. I saw bullet holes through walls and through desks. But I also saw Valentine's Day chocolates left unopened. I saw balloons, deflated over time – a stark reminder of that terrible day,” Cardona says.
The building where the mass shooting occurred was preserved as evidence by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and is slated for demolition later this year, according to Broward County Public Schools.
Michelle Kefford, the current principal of MSDHS, shared her own experience that day. She says she experienced it as both a community member and a parent – her son was in a classroom “steps away” from the massacre.
She was asked to lead the school a year after the tragedy.
Kefford is now a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ (NASSP) Principal Recovery Network (PRN): “a club no one wants to be a part of,” she says.
Founded by NASSP and former principal of Columbine High School, Frank DeAngelis, PRN is made up of 21 current and former school principals who Kefford says either “suffered a shooting on their school campus, or assumed leadership after a shooting to lead the long and arduous road to recovery.”
Last August, the group created a guide of its own for educators. “The NASSP Principal Recovery Network Guide to Recovery” is a collection of their lived experiences, strategies and interventions in the face of tragedy, Kefford says.
However, Kefford pushed leaders to do more to provide schools with “critical” preventative resources and to enact protective policies.
Sibley commended the first lady’s decision to include emotional anecdotes in her remarks.
“It shows how many more people are affected than we might think. It's not just the 26 children, for instance, or parents and teachers and children who died at Sandy Hook [Elementary School],” Sibley says, referring to the mass shooting that occurred in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. “It's those who survived and what they carry on with them.”
Although, Sibley says she’s unsure how effective Jill Biden’s Thursday remarks will end up being as she may just be “preaching to the choir.” However, it’s essential in defining her outlook toward the issue.
“It also underlines her larger perspective about education and the influence that educators can have as opposed to a political platform,” Sibley says. “So on the one hand, she's supporting his campaign, which is, in part, promoting more gun safety, but she's also using it as a way to reach people directly where they are — in their school.”
“So on the one hand, she's supporting his campaign, which is, in part, promoting more gun safety, but she's also using it as a way to reach people directly where they are — in their school.”
— Katherine A.S. Sibley, author and professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University
The White House’s first-ever Office of Gun Violence Prevention was established by President Biden last September. Headed by Vice President Kamala Harris, its mission is to not only reduce gun violence, but to “implement and expand upon key executive and legislative action which has been taken to save lives.”
As the 2024 presidential election nears, Sibley says involving the first lady in the gun violence initiative is “strategic.”
“I think it's very effective because it complements the Gun Violence Protection Office headed by Kamala Harris. But, by bringing the first lady in, it really raises the profile and it really underlines this kind of campaign issue,” Sibley says.
Gun violence has been a long-standing interest of first ladies.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan promoted gun control after her husband was shot in an attempted assassination in 1981, Sibley says. Reagan wanted people to support the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a federal law enforcing background checks when purchasing a firearm. The Brady Bill was adopted in 1993, and went into effect in 1994.
Nearly two decades later after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Sibley says she doesn’t remember former First Lady Michelle Obama immediately speaking out about the tragedy. But, Sibley said Obama mentioned in her book, Becoming, that when Barack called her downstairs to the Oval Office (the only time he did so during the workday), “they just hugged each other.”
“[Michelle Obama] was not able to go to that vigil that her husband went to,” Sibley says, noting the Obamas had very young kids at the time. “She just couldn't bring herself to go.”
However, Sibley recalls Barack Obama’s announcement that Vice President Joe Biden at the time was going to lead an effort to have smart policy proposals for reducing gun violence, like resurrecting an assault weapons ban similar to the legislation passed in 1994 that later expired in 2004.
“It is interesting that Jill Biden has been involved in this issue for a long time,” Sibley says. “I think the connection between the Obama administration [and] the Biden administration is a through line on this issue.”
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