MCPS, local law enforcement to hold gun education assemblies at all high schools

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Photo courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office Facebook

State’s Attorney John McCarthy speaks at a high school gun education assembly. MCPS partnered with the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and prosecutors from the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office as part of its latest initiative to tackle gun violence in schools.

By Harper Barnowski, Walt Whitman High School

All MCPS high schools will hold gun education assemblies over the next two months, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy wrote in a September 13 letter to community members. 

The school district partnered with the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and prosecutors from the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office as part of its latest initiative to tackle gun violence in schools. 

Officials announce the assemblies nearly nine months after a shooting at Magruder High School left one student in critical condition, and one day before false reports of a gun on campus sent B-CC High School into lockdown

According to DeMarco, the school district partnered with local law enforcement agencies to develop the assemblies after a rise of violent incidents in schools and the number of guns recovered on school property. Between September and mid-November of 2021, police reported 48 assaults – more than the total figure for the 2018 school year. Since Aug. 14, officials have also seized 790 illegal guns this year, up nearly 75% from 452 in 2020, according to McKnight and McCarthy.

Prosecutors from the State’s Attorney’s Office have already started conducting the assemblies at high schools in MCPS, Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Director Lauren DeMarco wrote in an email to The Black & White.

The assemblies will cover Maryland’s gun laws and the criminal penalties for violating them, officials wrote in the letter. Law enforcement will also provide students with resources for reporting potential criminal activity and strategies to keep guns out of the district’s schools and solve disputes without resorting to violence, DeMarco wrote.

The assemblies are a response to spikes in violence and weapons in schools, according to DeMarco.

The 17-year-old shooter in the Magruder incident will be prosecuted as an adult. Maryland state law requires that juveniles older than 16 be charged in the adult justice system if charged with handgun possession.

“State’s Attorney John McCarthy is concerned about the rise in violent incidents in schools, the number of guns recovered on school property and of course the fact that we had a shooting inside of a school in January,” DeMarco wrote.

The first gun education assembly took place on Sept. 15 at Winston Churchill High School, according to DeMarco. Law enforcement will visit additional high schools this week, and the rest of the assemblies will occur over the next two months. 

For Principal Robert Dodd, partnering with law enforcement to hold assemblies is an important step in working to decrease gun violence in Montgomery County schools, he said.

“I always support education on something as vital to school safety as firearms,” Dodd said. “I think the way to make a difference on this issue is to have it be a collaborative effort, and I think that [the assembly] speaks to that.”

At the assemblies, law enforcement officers will convey the importance of talking to a trusted adult or calling the Maryland Tip Line if they believe another student may commit an act of violence towards themselves or others, according to DeMarco. 

Junior Lauren Kim believes that for the assemblies to have their intended effect, students must fully commit to using the strategies that officials discuss, she said.

“I think this is a good step in the right direction,” Kim said. “After they take the step, it’s up to the students to decide whether they are going to take information to heart and create change.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on September 26, 2022.