President Obama bestowed the Presidential Citizens Medal upon 18 honorable citizens Friday, including posthumous awards to the six educators killed in the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The family members of the four teachers and two administrators went on stage to accept the medal on behalf of their loved ones slain in the massacre that also claimed the lives of 20 children.
"They gave their lives to protect the precious children in their care and gave all they had for the most innocent and helpless among us,” Obama said at the ceremony in the White House. “That's what we honor today."
Though Obama did not mention his gun-control efforts at the somber ceremony, the tragedy has sparked nationwide calls for tighter gun control laws. Thursday marked the two-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Since then, there have been numerous shootings at schools across the nation, emphasizing the need to get stricter about gun control.
The rising number of gun fatalities prompted the president to highlight gun control as part of his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, calling upon Congress to vote on gun control proposals currently up for debate saying, “What I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.”
For many Americans, whose greatest concern of whether their kids will get into college has been replaced by an overriding fear about whether their children will get home safely from school, immediate action to ensure safety from gun violence is crucial. Similarly, young people feel as if it is only a matter of time before their own school becomes a target for gun violence.
Can implementing “reasonable” guidelines on background checks, automatic guns, and large ammunition clips make schools safe? It is a hope that seems too far-reaching to believe, particularly when the growing crisis of gun violence is so deeply rooted in America's gun culture – steeped in tradition and dominated by high death rates. Undoubtedly, placing a societal tendency to solve problems with bullets amidst impoverished communities makes for a situation with no simple solution.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza said San Francisco schools are on high security alert, and officials have reexamined their safety protocols, making sure to create a safe culture where students in crisis can have immediate access to help.
Juan Gallardo, a security guard at John O’Connell High School, said the Mission district school has a team of staff dedicated to ensuring the safety of the city’s students.
“We pride ourselves on safety, giving these kids a fair chance, and making school a safe environment to be in,” Gallardo said. “We have a School Resource Officer here as well that can back us up if anything major goes down."
Adisa Banjoko, O’Connell security guard and founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, added that the School Resource Officer plays a valuable role in deescalating situations that arise within the school and amongst students.
“The students don’t see [Officer Perez] as an outsider or just a cop – he’s a cop that cares, meaning that he works with us in terms of intervening when a problem comes up among the students,” Banjoko said.
“It’s a cooperative effort. We’re all well connected and stay in touch with what is going on at the school and outside of it. Student safety is top priority.”
President Obama is expected to address the subject of school shootings and gun violence Friday afternoon in his hometown of Chicago, calling on federal action to prevent future shooting massacres.