KEN TOLTZ: Gun violence can be prevented

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DEAR EDITOR: On this coming Monday May 20th, spare a thought for Kendrick Castillo who won’t be marching into STEM School Highlands Ranch graduation with the rest of his senior classmates. It’s likely Kendrick will be honored at the commencement ceremony due to his heroic deed on a normal average Tuesday, when suddenly a classmate armed with a gun brought from home, opened fire in British Literature class. Kendrick immediately sprang into action rushing his armed classmate along with two other fellow STEM School Highlands Ranch students.

Kendrick died shielding classmates, while Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones acted in sync with Kendrick.  Jones suffered several gunshot wounds in the process of subduing and pinning the shooter and confiscating his weapon. Spare a thought because it seems that Colorado’s political leadership have only done just that.

Less than a week from the May 7th trauma, Gov. Polis and our Colorado legislators (many of whom I consider friends) are posing for smiling pictures as the governor signs bills. I have to ask myself, “why are they smiling?” How can it possibly be business as usual for the top leaders of Colorado‘s State government?

What if this shooting had happened at the schools our leaders’ children attend? What if, God forbid, one of their kids had the instinct to rush a student armed with a weapon and ended their school-day dead? It’s a horrible horrible thought, but it happened to a Colorado public school student just last week! Kendrick Castillo’s parents won’t be proudly watching their son graduate high school, and Colorado, it could have been your son or daughter.

This is the nature of gun violence, whether it happens at a school, a shopping mall, a church or synagogue, a country-western concert, a nightclub…etc. The victims are random; those who die or are shot were most likely in the right place (where they normally go) at the wrong time (some guy with a grievance and easy access to a gun).

For the past 20 years I’ve worked side-by-side with traumatized relatives who’ve lost loved ones to horrific gun violence while going about their daily lives. We’ve lobbied at the state legislature, walked door-to-door supporting political candidates, some have run for office themselves, some have formed non-profits to raise money and awareness, and connect via social media to find likeminded newly minted activists.

Now it’s time for elected officials to step up! Your leadership and commitment to public safety is being called into question by your obvious lack of commitment to take action. Where’s the effort to address every aspect of school safety? Where’s the leadership?

It can’t just be Douglas County Commissioner’s problem.  Public safety is the top responsibility of every elected official, every public safety employee, every law enforcement official and in the case of our children (900,000 of whom attend Colorado public schools) every adult in the education system. Every school board, every Parent-Teacher organization, every mental health counseling professional and of course every parent, teacher and administrator, there is nothing more important than ensuring students, teachers and administrators are safe in school. Nothing.

We are calling on Governor Polis, the leadership of our state legislature and public safety officials to commit to lead. Demonstrate the creativity and resourcefulness we all know that Coloradans and Americans bring to bear when we decide to address and solve our challenges. Gun violence can be prevented, we need the will and in this case the citizen pressure to encourage those who are elected to lead. Now is the time.

— Ken Toltz, Founder & Co-Chair, Safe Campus Colorado