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Georgia’s private schools call for gun law reform

Leaders of dozens of Georgia’s well known and prestigious private schools are imploring legislators to enact “common-sense gun laws” to prevent future school shootings. 

The public letter, signed by 47 independent school leaders, calls on the nation’s leaders to take action now. The group’s letter will run as an ad in Friday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

The school chiefs express sadness for the February shooting in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people and outline the ways their schools try to ward off would-be killers -- from panic buttons to cameras, locks, counseling, drills and training. They also call on elected officials to do more. 

“Despite our best efforts, we recognize that we do not have the power to prevent individuals bent on violence from acquiring the weapons used in recent school shootings. We are writing because YOU have that power. We implore you to enact the common-sense gun laws supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans. We can no longer abide your inaction,” the letter states. 

Related: ACLU of Georgia demands school reconsider punishment for student protester who walked out

The letter is signed by leaders who represent religious schools, elementary and high schools, and some of the highest-ranked academic powerhouses in the state, including The Westminster Schools, Woodward Academy, The Lovett School and Pace Academy. 

Pace Academy Head of School Fred Assaf spearheaded the effort to collect signatures. He was inspired by the high schoolers-turned-advocates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who launched a nationwide conversation about gun control after surviving the Feb. 14 shooting at their school. He also cited a similar letter signed by leaders of about 150 private schools in New York

Assaf said he reached out to roughly 170 independent schools, of varying sizes, around the state. Those who signed on represent schools with a total enrollment of more than 23,000 students, Assaf said. 

The letter does not detail specific changes or reforms. 

“We hope that those who are charged with leading in the legislature will add our voice to the chorus of voices,” Assaf said. “We are not policy makers, and we do not pretend to know what is best.” 

Bill Garrett, president of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, said he signed the letter because students need to be in a safe environment. 

“The nation has to do something about the gun violence, and part of it is dealing with the supply issue. It is not something we as an individual can do. It is something that our legislators have to do, and the fact that they have been unwilling to do it is just deplorable,” he said. 

Though much of the attention after a school shooting focuses on public schools, safety is also the top concern at private schools, leaders said. 

“If children don’t feel safe coming to school, then they cannot learn. They cannot be their best selves,” said Nishant Mehta, head of school at The Children's School in Atlanta’s midtown, who also signed the letter.

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