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Thousands of South Carolina students expected to sign pledge against gun violence

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Over 3,000 students will sign a pledge on Oct. 20, 2021, to prevent gun violence in schools. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

More than 3,000 South Carolina students are expected to sign a pledge to end gun violence in their schools this week. 

For the 20th year in a row, South Carolina schools are participating in the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence as part of the National Day of Concern. The goal is to teach students about gun safety and encourage students to avoid using guns to resolve conflict.

The pledge comes as many S.C. students return to in-person learning after taking class remotely during much of the pandemic. Before schools across the nation went virtual, gun violence was plaguing American schools. So far this year there have been 196 incidents of gun violence in schools across the nation. In 2001, there were 16 incidents, according to the Center for Homeland Security's K-12 School Shooting Database. 

The issue has also come up in Charleston-area schools. On Oct. 14, a security officer at Fort Dorchester High School found a handgun in a student's backpack. There was no threat to students and no disruption to school operations, according to a Dorchester School District Two news release.

The pledge is voluntary and given out to students in all education levels. At the middle and high school level, students pledge to never take a gun to school or solve a dispute with a gun. They will also pledge to use their influence to prevent their friends from using guns. 

The elementary school pledge focuses on educating students on what to do if they see a gun. Students who sign it promise to never touch a gun if they see one and always tell their teacher or a trusted adult. They are also told to assume that any gun they see is loaded. 

Six law enforcement agencies and 13 schools across the state are participating in the program this year, including the Charleston Police Department and Julian Mitchell Elementary School in Charleston. 

Senior Police Officer Ryan Brown, who works as Mitchell's school resource officer through the Charleston Police Department, said the program helps him educate students about safety. While the idea of a young child finding a gun is terrible, he believes it's best for them to know what to do if this happens rather than taking the gun and injuring themselves or someone else. 

"The sooner we start the conversation the better," he said. 

On Oct. 20, Brown will be travelling to some classrooms to demonstrate gun safety to students at Mitchell. He will also be sending a video with his lessons about gun safety to teachers throughout the school, who can then choose if they want to use the lesson with their students. 

The idea of the program is to give young people the education and tools they need to avoid gun violence. While the pledge is simple, it presents an opportunity for dialogue about gun violence. 

Police and sheriffs departments in Bennettsville, Cherokee County, Chesterfield County, Easley and Lexington County are also participating in the program.

The program also includes students from Brookdale Elementary in Orangeburg, Cheraw Intermediate School, Elloree Elementary, Fairfield Magnet School for Math and Science, Marlboro County High School in Bennettsville, McKissick Academy of Science and Technology in Easley, Rivelon Elementary in Edisto, Sandhills Middle School in Lexington County, Swansea Freshman Academy, Wallace-Gregg Elementary School in Florence County and Luther Vaughn and Northwest elementary schools in Cherokee County. 

Follow Libby Stanford on Twitter @libbystanford.

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