Ban Handguns in Milwaukee

The murder of associate principal Dale Breitlow by a former student was Milwaukee’s most deeply disturbing reminder yet that our schools cannot be neatly cordoned off from the violence that stalks American society.

Breitlow was gunned down in the halls of Wauwatosa West High School during school hours. Short of turning our schools into prisons with no public access, there seems little that officials could have done to prevent the murder. And as every teacher in the Milwaukee area realized when they heard of Breitlow’s death, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Our sympathies go out to Breitlow’s family, friends, and colleagues. At times such as these, words are woefully inadequate.

It is also our hope, however, that his unfortunate death will help awaken teachers to the role they must play in helping to stop the violence that threatens students and teachers alike.

As we mentioned in an editorial in our last issue, the roots of violence are complex and varied. So must be the solutions. Yet there is also an immediate issue that can, and must, be taken up: the proposal to ban guns in Milwaukee.

Throughout the city, petitions will be circulated in coming weeks as part of an effort to ban the possession of handguns in Milwaukee. The goal is to raise at least 20,321 signatures supporting such an ordinance, which would force an up-or-down, no amendments vote on the matter before the Common Council. If the Council does not approve the ordinance, it would automatically be placed on the ballot as a binding referendum.

The proposal, modeled after legislation in Morton Grove, Ill., would completely ban the possession of handguns except for law enforcement officers, licensed gun clubs, and antique gun collectors.

The breadth of the proposal is its strength and, for some, its potential weakness. To its credit, the measure tackles head on the legitimate question of whether half-hearted measures such as a 5-day waiting period to buy guns will really make a dent in the problem. And, as the Breitlow murder made clear, the problem of guns and violence is getting worse.

In 1991, there were more than 25,000 deaths in the United States due to handgun violence, according to the FBI. As Jon E. Vice, president of Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, wrote recently: “If guns wer a disease, our nation would have long ago marshaled the resources needed to defeat the enemy. And that is just the point — we must change our way of thinking and come to the realization that guns are a very real threat to the health and well-being of our children.”

The petition drive is being organized by the Campaign for a Better Milwaukee, a group initiated by Mobilization for Survival and Jobs with Peace and supported by a range of neighborhood and religious groups, healthcare officials, legal experts, and community activists.

Organizers are well aware that our society’s problems will not be eliminated by a handgun ban. Issues of poverty, jobless- ness, and despair are far too complex to be solved by one ordinance. At the same time, organizers convincingly argue that gun control is a realizable, and necessary, first step. It would not only save lives but would significantly ease the fears of all residents who wonder whether we are living in a great city on a great lake or in a war zone.

Teachers should be in the forefront of the petition campaign. As we witness daily in our classrooms, violence is corroding the future of all our children. We encourage all teachers and parents to add their voices to the broad spectrum of people saying, “Enough! Stop the senseless killing!”

Pick up your phone today and call 964-5158 or 933-6010 for information on how you can help circulate petitions.