Keep gun-control conversation moving forward

From the President

Kathryn Wehrmann

After the horrific shooting deaths on Feb. 14, in Parkland, Fla., just about everyone knows the name of the school where it occurred. But many may not know about the woman for whom the school was named.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a journalist, an advocate of the women’s suffrage movement and a conservationist. She successfully advocated for the protection of the Florida Everglades when a proposed Army Corps of Engineers project threatened to damage it.

I cannot imagine Douglas would have been any less active in the cause of the students who are currently enrolled at the school that bears her name. I have no doubt she would applaud and support their efforts to stand up and speak their truth. Her legacy as an ardent advocate lives within them.

Douglas, like the high school students we have seen at protest rallies on national news shows and in meetings with legislators, was a skilled speaker and a no-nonsense organizer who had a vision to save a natural part of the Florida environment.

And, like Douglas before them, the students in Parkland and throughout the country also have a vision — of safe schools, free of violence, where dreams are born and futures are forged in hope.
Douglas was successful in stopping activity that would have further damaged the Everglades, and I want to believe the students and the families that love them will also achieve their goals. However, they will need help and support in their quest.

As I write this column, news outlets are reporting that, ironically, students on the Stoneman Douglas debate team had worked hard last fall preparing arguments for and against gun control.

Their efforts and preparation have contributed to the ability of many of the students to confidently and purposefully appear on national news programs, to stand before state and national legislators to speak eloquently to those in power, including the president of the United States.

As I watch and listen, I am riveted by their laser-like focus and ability to deliver their message.

They have defined the issue as a matter of weak gun laws that allowed a very troubled youth to buy a semi-automatic weapon. They have rejected the notions that a breakdown in American culture is to blame and that more guns will make a difference in stemming the loss of student and teacher lives.

With a well-defined issue — and mastery of social media — they have researched and disseminated a clear and coherent message. They steadfastly are going about their efforts despite the critics who would have the public believe these young activists are paid “crisis actors” and pawns of groups who are anti-gun.

It is difficult to know where the national conversation about gun control will be by the time this column is published. I am hopeful it is still at the forefront of our consciousness, the topic of conversation we should be having with our families, communities and legislators.

Please do what you can to move the conversation forward. Please look to NASW for the resources that can help ensure you are informed.

A great place to start is the NASW social justice brief Gun Violence in America.

I would also encourage you to review the School Social Work of America Association’s position paper on gun violence, “SSWAA Resolution Statement: A Public Health Approach to School Safety & Violence Prevention.”

Like NASW, SSWAA views gun violence in our schools as a public health crisis that needs to be addressed with effective, coordinated strategies.

We also need to address the constraints on gun-violence research that date back to the 1996 passage of an amendment sponsored by Jay Dickey, a congressman from Arkansas, that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to advocate for gun control.

At the same time, Congress acted to lower the CDC’s budget by the “exact” amount it had been spending on gun-related research (Atlantic, Feb. 15, 2018).

As a result of these actions, and the CDC’s decision to not pursue lines of inquiry focused on gun violence, our country has been deprived of the research we need to make better policy decisions that might well translate into saving lives.

We must add our voices to those who are advocating for meaningful research that investigates the causes of gun violence and its effects on victims, families and communities.

As trained social workers, we have the skills to respond in the aftermath of terrible tragedies, manage crises, support the bereaved, and link people to the resources they need.

I am hoping we can strengthen our advocacy efforts to stand up and call out the shortcomings in policy and enforcement, and draw attention to the limitations on gun-violence research that continue to place our youth at risk, and rob us of the potential young lives represent and that our country needs.

Let us all continue to be the leaders, advocates and champions that our nation’s students need us to be.

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas said, “There is always the need to carry on.”

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at