Police tape hangs from a signpost outside Richneck Elementary School following a shooting on Jan. 7, 2023, in Newport News, Va. A 6-year-old student was taken into custody after shooting a teacher during an altercation in a classroom at Richneck Elementary School.

Police tape hangs from a signpost outside Richneck Elementary School following a shooting on Jan. 7, 2023, in Newport News, Va. A 6-year-old student was taken into custody after shooting a teacher during an altercation in a classroom at Richneck Elementary School. (Jay Paul, Getty Images/TNS)

Six-year-old children should be learning to read, identify new words by matching letters to sounds, count to 100, and do basic addition and subtraction. But now we have a 6-year-old who allegedly shot his teacher in Newport News, Va.

Unfortunately, school shootings are not uncommon. There have been more than 1,300 school shootings in the U.S. since 1970, according to data from the government-sponsored Homeland Security Digital Library. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 in Colorado, where two teens killed 13 people, there have been well over 500 school shootings. The shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May, where 19 children and two adults were killed, was the most recent school massacre to shock the nation.

Sadly, we are growing too accustomed to school shootings, which speaks to the need for change in our system. However, the news of a 6-year-old allegedly shooting his teacher did shock us all. Of all the shootings at schools, none of the shooters has been this young.

We have a dilemma on our hands: How do we address this issue from a legal and educational standpoint? Common law recognizes the innocence of youth at this age under the doctrine known as infancy defense. It holds that children younger than 7 should not be prosecuted for a crime because they are too young to form criminal intent.

Unfortunately, no one envisioned a century ago, when common law was formed, that our youths would have this kind of exposure to the world. Social media didn’t exist, and neither did the internet. The world was significantly different. More than half our youth younger than 11 own a cellphone, according to data from Common Sense Media, and therefore access to the world.

Parents and other stakeholders are concerned over children’s use of technology and the impact it’s having on them. The rates at which our youths are using phones and other technological devices continues to grow. With this exposure, it’s conceivable to think that they may experience behavioral changes, as was revealed in a study of about 1,600 first graders in Japan in 2018. The study found a link between the use of smartphone technology and behavioral development.

While the legal system works out the unprecedented school shooting in Virginia to determine what contributed to this horrific act, school doors across the country must continue to open daily. The problem is that it’s not a matter of if there will be another school shooting — but when. Historically, school districts have not had to worry about young elementary students carrying out shootings but those outside the school, who are known as external threats.

Now that conversation has to change, and so should the practices. One practice to consider is putting metal detectors in every school across the country or at least having each school district seriously consider it.

In this era of polarization, where it’s more difficult than ever to get consensus on policy matters, one thing we all share is a desire to keep our kids safe. No matter our race, ethnicity or religious affiliation or whether we’re Democrats, Republicans or independents, we all want our children to have productive lives.

Far too many of our children are being negatively affected by violence. While we focus on the 6-year-old who allegedly shot his teacher and we hope he gets counseling, what about the children who were in that classroom? What about the teacher? They have to live with this trauma for the rest of their lives.

Metal detectors may be able to prevent some of these senseless acts. There are well over 13,000 public school districts and more than 30,000 private schools in the U.S., which shows how complex the situation is. School shootings can happen in any one of these districts, whether the community is rural, suburban or urban.

How metal detectors will be funded may cause some communities pause. But that should be the least of our worries. The lives of our children and teachers must take precedence over politics. With the help of federal and state funding, resources can be found. Political difficulties should not prevent any attempts to make it happen. Some children are concerned about attending school because they are afraid for their safety, and far too many teachers are leaving the profession.

Students and teachers have a right to feel assured when they go to school. Parents have a right to expect that their children will return home unharmed. Metal detectors may help save lives and deter those who may desire to take part in such tragic events.

Jerald McNair is a school administrator at South Holland School District 151 in Illinois.

©2023 Chicago Tribune.

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