By: H. Carl McCall,, Chairman of SUNY Board of Trustees
More than seven thousand children have been killed as a result of gun violence since the horrific massacre that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Seven thousand. We will never know who these children would have grown to become or what wonders they would have shared with the world. What we do know is that we failed them. We did not value their lives enough to protect them. We allowed our malls, restaurants, movie theaters and schools to devolve into the war zones that stole their futures. Now, as we stand at a moral crossroads for our country, we must choose to reprioritize and firmly establish the safety of our children. While many Americans have already come to this conclusion, great disagreement exist on how best to protect our youngsters. Some are arguing for the proliferation of gun presence with the suggestion that teachers should be armed during instruction. Others assert that gun violence will only deescalate through the institution of comprehensive gun reform. Which path should America choose to move forward? Perhaps the answer lies with those that the question most affects. On this occasion, as in many others, we must gain direction from our youth. As scripture reminds us, “Out of the mouth of babes comes perfect truth.”
From the American Revolutionary War to the Civil Rights Movement, every great crusade that has propelled this country closer to actualizing its ideals has been led by young people. We have always looked to them to compel America to become what it should as opposed to settling for what it is. The issue of gun violence is no different. We must follow the examples of our children as they demand that we do what is right and not merely what is politically expedient. The teenage leaders of the “March for Our Lives” Movement that arose after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting have argued, unequivocally, that federal gun reform is the only way forward. Their five-point platform calls for mandating universal background checks, banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-grade assault weapons, funding federal gun violence research and digitizing gun purchase records. They have scoffed at the idea that schools will become safer if more guns are introduced to their campuses. Perhaps their time at recess during elementary school has caused this reaction. After all, if one child on a playground hits another with a stick their teacher does not give sticks to all the children. They take the one stick away.
It is appalling that young people at every level of academic training have to worry about their safety while they learn. If American education, or society for that matter, is to remain resolute young people must indisputably know that they are safe when they work, learn and play. Our youngsters have a right to safety in the environments they occupy not only because they are our children but because they are American citizens. We have failed to provide them with this right and they are calling us to task. We should resoundingly applaud and support their involvement in the March for Our Lives Movement and any other effort that promises to make our country a more just and perfect union. Not only do such civic actions undergird the fundamental ideals of our country, they also offer incalculable benefit to every American institution; especially education. We must follow our students in urging local, state and federal governments to pass effective gun reform and ensure that America reemerges as a land of safety, well-being and opportunity for all. Our country’s future lies in the hands of our children. Let’s make sure to protect them in the present.
I am incredibly proud of every SUNY student that participated in the nationwide “March for Our Lives” Day of Action on March 24, 2018. Their courage has helped to push our country closer to finally resolving our gun violence epidemic. However, my responsibility to these young people extends beyond pride. The State University of New York’s responsibility to its students extends beyond applause. Our true responsibility to this rising generation is to equip them with the skills and resources they need to effectively engage in civic discourse. We have to encourage them in their passions for social justice. This is how we arm our students. It is only through a civically engaged and politically active populace that our country will realize its fullest potential. SUNY must do its part to transform our student body into that populace. This is the greatest assistance that we can offer our students as they fight to secure the well-being of their generation and, thereby, the future of our country.