An Open Letter to Superintendent Griffith by Patrick Firth


Dear Dr. Griffith,

My name is Patrick Firth and I am a proud product of TCPS’ Class of 2013. Though I did not attend TCPS for elementary school, I don’t believe I could have received a better middle and high school education from anywhere else in Talbot County other than Easton Middle School and Easton High School. I am proud to call myself a Warrior but today, I am hurting and I am scared. I worry that one day I will wake up to learn a Talbot County school has fallen victim to gun violence much like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and, most recently, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have. I truly hope that TCPS never joins the history books as yet another location of a horrific school shooting. Dr. Griffith, with the incredible amount of love and dedication that you put into making our school system the best in Maryland, I am confident that, especially in a county with a history and culture of gun ownership, this is a nightmare scenario that has also crossed your mind in recent times.

I am a gun owner myself. Personally, I think my family owns enough guns to field that militia our founding fathers were talking about in the Second Amendment! That said, it’s time to recognize the fact that enough is enough. There is no need for a person, and if we cannot agree to that term, at least a child, to have access to high-powered weapons, such as the AR-15. President Reagan once said in a cabinet meeting, “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I think that quote is more relevant today than it ever has been before. This should not be a politically divisive subject. Though my TCPS education drilled math into me, surely we don’t measure the value of our second amendment rights in units of dead schoolchildren? Neither I, nor any other political leader of either party is an advocate for fully banning all guns – the second amendment clearly endows that right to Americans. But the second amendment also clearly includes the phrase, “well-regulated.” How can this be so controversial?

Dr. Griffith, we need to do something. We need to do something now and we cannot just angrily post to Facebook about it until we forget. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. That figure, which comes from a review of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures and news stories, is a conservative calculation and does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed youths to gunfire. In fact, I’m certain that number has gone up due to the fact that as I write this letter, schools in Stark County, Ohio are under lockdown as a 7th grader has just shot himself inside Jackson Memorial Middle School. Easton High School had a bomb scare just about a month ago and, though it may simply be a tangential event, it is a stark reminder that just because we are a small town, we are not immune to this nation-wide epidemic of gun violence.

I am writing to you, Dr. Griffith, because you are our county’s educational leader. Your voice, your knowledge, and your compassion for Talbot County’s future generations turns peoples’ heads and shapes children’s minds. I’m asking you and to support and encourage, should individual students and faculty desire, the 17-minute student and teacher walkout that is planned for March 14, 2018. In addition, on April 20, 2018, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, there will be a day-long walkout that students and faculty should be encouraged, and excused from class, to participate in to protest congressional inaction – inaction that is literally killing our children. Most importantly, however, given Talbot County’s proximity to our nation’s capital, I strongly encourage you to publicize, excuse, and perhaps even facilitate, students’ and faculty’s voluntary participation in the March 24, 2018 planned protest in Washington, D.C. alongside survivors of the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I realize allowing students to skip three days of class may seem difficult from a logistical standpoint. However, not only could this action potentially save lives, consider what an incredible civics lesson it would be. Some of my greatest memories at Easton High School come from my membership in Junior State of America. One of the core lessons my experiences through that club taught me was that while the Constitution begins with, “We the People,” that only matters when we uphold our duty to, “Be the People.” It is my hope that, under your leadership, TCPS will continue teaching their students to ‘be the people’ and encourage students to use their voice and stand up for their rights.

Finally, to any student who may potentially be reading this, regardless of what action Talbot County Public Schools decides to take on this issue, I plead with you not to accept the explanations from people in power that a student’s upbringing or mental capacity is the core reason for mass shootings in our schools. Do not let individuals with a special interest in the sales of high-powered weaponry, like certain members of Congress, for example, convince you this is a cultural problem with our misguided or morally corrupt generation. Heavily-researched, evidence-based findings from the American Psychiatric Association state that mass shootings by people with a serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. Additionally, only 3% of all violent crimes are committed by people with a serious mental illness and when those crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to have even involved firearms. From 2007 to 2013, less than 1% of all firearm purchase denials due to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System were based off mental health record submissions. The FBI’s study of active shooters during this time period, on the other hand, demonstrated an increasing trend of mass shootings. While mental illness is a legitimate public health issue, it is both illogical and dangerous to label it as the reason for gun violence in America and pursue that rationale legislatively. As the same report from the American Psychiatric Association notes, a law aimed at a population responsible for 3% of the issue will result in an extremely low yield and be ineffective.

Assigning blame to people who suffer from mental illnesses, whom by the way, as it isn’t discussed enough, are often high-functioning, active, and productive members of society, will only perpetuate myths of a correlation between gun violence and mental illness, further stigmatize an already taboo societal issue, and push individuals who would otherwise feel confident finally seeking help back into the shadows. As intelligent, hardworking, and passionate TCPS students and graduates, our incredible educators taught us to respect and accept fact-based research when presented with it and disregard meritless, unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence or heresay. Just as we no longer accept that the Sun orbits the Earth, we can no longer accept that mental illness or a student’s upbringing is the core reason for gun violence – it is clearly the access to high-powered guns.

Dr. Griffith, thank you for the opportunity to raise this important issue with you. I believe you are and always have been a fantastic educator, principal, superintendent, and community leader. You have consistently stood up and advocated for what is best for your students and I hope that you will do the same here. Please use your position of power and influence within the Talbot County Public School system to encourage and help facilitate student and faculty participation in the upcoming, nation-wide demonstrations of our first amendment rights. Fellow TCPS students, I likewise encourage you to stand up, walk out, and be heard. Consider this crucial moment in your lives as a civics test in school. Make your educators, friends, and family proud by doing due academic diligence through researching and learning about this issue and then taking the test: “if not us, then who and if not now, then when?” It may only be a two-question test, but your answers could save lives.

Patrick Firth graduated from Easton High School and now a legislative assistant at Michael Best Strategies in Washington, D.C. 

Letters to Editor

  1. Kathryn Duehrssen says:

    EHS has a student body and staff informed, articulate, involved, and capable as we see at Douglass HS. I taught at EHS for 34 yrs and the Mock Trial Program highlighted our students abilities to local and state officials and the public. These students were able to think, plan, teamwork, and excel at persuasive talking. They were excellent. We did the program in my classroom as did Mr. Marvel and our students thrived.

  2. Jesse Haas says:

    This is an innapropriate use of our educational system at all levels. In fact it creates a gun safety issue as at a known date and time kids will be the exterior grounds of thr school. School is for learning, not protest and walkouts. My children will not participate in this. The writer should be ashamed of himself and has no true knowledge of the issue at hand.

  3. Nicole Dean says:

    Why do people only speak of restricting law abiding citizens from owning the weapon of their choice to protect their family and property? Why not talk about metal detectors at schools? What about the body scanners that people cheer for as safety measures at airports? How about armed security at every exterior school door? I saw an article a few days ago about bullet proof rooms installed in a county in Oklahoma to protect kids and teachers from school shooters.

    I, also, am a graduate of TCPS. I’m a little older than Mr. Firth and haven’t had the recent school experience he has had, but my children both attend TCPS. Let’s start talking about all the different ways we can protect our kids in school because if you take away guns, criminals (those who break laws like gun bans and laws against murder) will find any way they can to harm our kids if that is their intent.

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