CEO Thomas P. O’Neill III on Gun Control

March 7, 2018


Since Sandy Hook, classroom doors are always supposed to be locked in my school. Since Sandy Hook, students are not supposed to let visitors into the school in case of hidden threats. I was 13 then; I’m 18 now. This was my childhood. But did it have to be? #GunControlNow

9:18 PM – 15 Feb 2018

There were heartbreaking messages from inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, on Valentine’s Day of all days. The tweet above isn’t one of them. It’s from a Boston area high school student lucky enough to have never experienced the need to hide in a closet or under a desk, or to text her friends and family her good byes.

During my school years in the ’50s and early ’60s we practiced drills. Tensions from the Cold War spurred the federal government to launch a nationwide campaign to inform the citizenry of the dangers of nuclear war. Schoolchildren across the United States were taught to “duck and cover” by a cartoon animal named Bert the Turtle who was very alert and hid in his shell as firecrackers exploded above him. To be honest, we became numb to the training. The threat was real, but amorphous, beyond our control. So we ducked, we covered, we paid attention to where the familiar yellow and black Fallout Shelter signs were. The nuclear threat was real, thankfully the missiles never came.
The threat that today’s schoolchildren prepare for is real, and they know it. I can’t imagine what goes through kids’ minds as they train to use desks as bunkers, to hold text books in front of their faces, to stay silent while armed killers roam their familiar hallways.Younger students are told lies so that the reality of the training isn’t so scary. They’re given imaginary explanations for the exercises, so they don’t get scared. I wonder if the student tweeting above was aware at 13 of the stakes of this training-life or death. And I wonder what she thinks at 18, cellphone in hand, the world’s news at her fingertips, the videos from inside Stoneman Douglas live on her Twitter feed.The threat in the ’50s was from beyond our borders. The geopolitics that followed World War II seemed intractable and beyond our reach. The threat today is from within. We’re training American school kids to protect themselves from their peers. This is the school experience of an entire generation of Americans.

Instead of a national campaign against this threat, too many in Congress have done what we’re training our kids to do – hide under their desks and stay silent. Too many put the demands of the NRA before the safety of our children.

What the federal government has been unable to do, some states are doing. Massachusetts banned assault weapons nearly two decades ago. Following the Las Vegas shooting, the Commonwealth banned bump-stocks. It’s simply common sense. Last week, Massachusetts joined the states of New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as part of a multi-state effort to share information and reduce gun violence. This takes strong leadership. The Massachusetts Legislature, under the indefatigable efforts of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, has boldly moved to strengthen the Commonwealth’s gun laws. In addition, Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey give thoughtful and consistent leadership on the national stage. Still, as important as these efforts are, they cannot be substitutes for a comprehensive federal effort.

In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy spoke of a generation then coming to power that was “disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.” This generation of students has been raised and disciplined amidst the bitter reality of mass shootings and government’s inaction in response. This generation of students is coming of age and registering to vote. They are accessing the power of assembly and will hold the March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., with sister marches in Boston, New York and dozens of other cities. These students know the answer to the question that began this letter, “Did it have to be?” To paraphrase President Kennedy, let’s do everything in our power to support them to “go forth to lead the land we love.” Godspeed.

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