School Shootings: North Penn Issues Courageous Call To Action

Neighboring Bucks County districts offer no real solutions.
north penn school board
North Penn School District School Board,

Let’s be honest, “thoughts and prayers” has become a meaningless expression. Initially the phrase sounded good – even compassionate – but it has lost its appeal as senseless mass school shootings have continued unabated across the country. Furthermore, these senseless slaughters are, exclusively, a U.S. phenomenon.

It would be wrong to believe that Sandy Hook was the first school related shooting. A total of 132 lives were lost in 98 incidents that involved guns and schools between February 29, 2000 and December 13, 2012.

The carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School occurred on December 14, 2012, when 27 people died in Newtown, Connecticut.

Since Sandy Hook, an additional 174 people have died in 269 school shootings. And those numbers do not include the 22 lives that were extinguished on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas.

All told, 369 school shootings have taken the lives of 355 people.

Considering these statistics, is it presumptuous to wonder when and where it will happen again?

An analysis of the safety precautions at the Robb Elementary School reflects nothing less than “security best practices” –  a majority of which have been implemented by countless districts across the nation to deter a would-be shooter.  

This vicious cycle of implementing precautionary safety measures in an attempt to prevent mass school shootings is the very definition of insanity; repeating the same procedures over and over expecting a different result except the outcome is always the same: a heartbreaking tragedy.

Immediately following the Uvalde incident, school districts in the immediate area issued statements. Bucks County’s Pennridge and Central Bucks posted on their respective FaceBook pages on May 25, 2022. Montgomery County’s Souderton and North Penn posted on their websites.

The statement from the North Penn Board of Directors, however, was very different from the neighboring school districts.

It was courageous.

Instead of reiterating already known information that is regularly dispensed following far too many school shootings in the United States, the Board implored the community to take a different approach: vote for state house and sentate candidates that support commonsense gun legislation.

School board director Jonathan Kassa is the vice chair of the Facilities and Operations Committee as well as chair of the Safe Schools Committee at North Penn. When asked about how the board decided to issue their proactive messaging he advised that he did not interpret the board’s statement to be political but, instead, a moral imperative to better protect student lives.

“To not call-out the gaping holes in public policy that our state representatives refuse to close is irresponsible,” said Kassa. “To not issue a statement about the horrific gun violence in Uvalde, Texas, would also be irresponsible because it ignores the anxieties and fears of our community — and especially our students.”

By utilizing details from thorough security assessments of every building within North Penn, along with listening and incorporating the advice of top security experts, the District has been on the cutting edge of evidence-based best security practices. 

“Our students go to school in sandcastles on a beach that our community does everything to defend against a rising tide of political indifference emanating from a statehouse which refuses to act on behalf of a supermajority of its citizens. To ignore this reality is how a school board loses their integrity — hiding hard truths from the community isn’t what we are elected to do,“ Kassa added.

Democrats in Pennsylvania’s legislature know that the solution to the state’s firearm epidemic will not be accomplished by ignoring the Republicans position on gun control. As the minority party, commonsense gun legislation such as House Bills 271 and 872, along with their sister Senate Bills 413 and 855, have languished in their respective Judiciary Committees and not received any consideration by the PA-GOP since the beginning of the 2021 legislative session. It’s worth noting that the above bills are, by no stretch of the imagination, an exhaustive listing of the sensible gun legislation proposed by the Democrats.

Meanwhile, and despite an ever alarming increase in shootings across Pennsylvania, Republicans have sought and succeeded in passing at least one law – but not implementing it – to loosen the access to the regulation of firearms. House Bill 979 that is titled, in part, “providing for limitation on the regulation of firearms and ammunition” should actually have been called: providing NO limitation on the regulation of firearms and ammunition. The primary purpose of the legislation was to strip away the ability for any municipality to implement their own firearm regulations. For major cities like Philadelphia, this is problematic as shootings have escalated exponentially and easy access to guns and ammunition has remained largely unfettered.

House Bill 979, introduced and cosponsored by a slew of Republicans including Bucks County representative Craig Staats (R-145) and Montgomery County representative Tracy Pennycuick (R-147), made its way through the House and Senate and was passed in less than one year. 

On January 25, 2022, Senator Maria Collett of Montgomery County (D-12), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made a valiant attempt via an amendment to curtail some of the legislation’s lax provisions accompanied by a Senate floor statement, captured on video, where she said:

“Make no mistake, passing HB-979 would hamstring one of the only levels of government – local government – that has repeatedly expressed an interest in addressing the proliferation of firearms in the communities they represent … Since 2000, Pennsylvania has seen 13 school shootings in rural, suburban and urban areas across our diverse Commonwealth. More than 100 mass shootings involving four or more people have occurred in Pennsylvania since 2013.”

Her amendment failed. The bill passed and was then vetoed by Governor Wolf.

In addition to HB-979 cosponsors, elected Bucks County Republicans who voted for the legislation included Senators Bob Mensch (R-24) and Robert Tomlinson (R-6), along with Representatives Craig Staats (R-145), Shelby Labs (R-143 ), Kathleen Tomlinson (R-18), Meghan Schroeder (R-29), Todd Polinchock (R-144), Frank Farry (R-142 ), and Wendi Thomas (R-178 ).

Days ago, on May 25, Pennsylvania Representative Liz Hanbidge (D-61) of Montgomery County, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, challenged her Republican colleagues in a public statement, captured on video, where she said:

“In the absence of action, your thoughts and prayers do nothing. There is no question that one of the greatest moral failings of our time is our failure to address this issue. In the absence of action, we prove that we are a country that cares more about its guns than its children.”

Hanbidge strategically sponsored a motion to force a floor vote on HB-1903, a gun violence prevention bill, that has been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee since September, 2021. In her weekly newsletter Hanbidge stated, “Circumventing the committee process is an unusual step but we are without other options. Majority Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rob Kauffman (R-89), continues to refuse to bring up any legislation he apparently believes will limit guns’ rights (but he seems wholly unwilling to address the rights of children to feel safe in school).” 

Sadly, but not surprisingly, her motion failed but only because Democrats are outnumbered in Harrisburg.

The Pennsylvania Republican party has chosen to hold hostage all residents in the state and, as pointed out by the North Penn School Board, there is only one way to fix this: vote them out.

You have the power to make Pennsylvania safer by voting. To make sure you’re registered to vote in the upcoming general election in November, or to check your registration, click here.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.