The answer to the threat of gun violence in schools is not more guns—no matter what the gun lobby says. So argues civil rights groups, and on Thursday the Advancement Project, the ACLU and the NAACP released a comprehensive school safety proposal with a basic premise: the best protection against school-based shootings is holistic prevention.

The plan comes ahead of the National Rifle Association, which announced earlier this year that it too plans to release a model school security plan in April. The NRA’s plan is expected to focus on calls for armed security officers or school personnel. The NRA is not alone. When President Obama issued his gun control and school safety proposals earlier this year, he called on Congress to fund more mental health professionals, counselors and school police officers in schools. The urgent talk about school safety seeks to address the question on so many people’s minds since the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn.: how do we keep students in schools safe?

The civil rights groups’ plan, called “The Gun-Free Way to School Safety,” (PDF) rejects reactive and militaristic school security measures like arming teachers with guns, or stationing more police officers in schools. Those sorts of tactics can have adverse effects on a school climate and funnel youth into the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead, schools ought to put a focus on tending to students’ mental health, and increasing security in ways which do not militarize campuses. Zero-tolerance school discipline often alienates youth and makes them lose trust in the adults and law enforcement officers in their lives—and that kind of disaffection is what can breed violence down the line.

“Some of the most effective ways to protect our kids include investing in counselors and psychologists; increasing the presence of parents and volunteers to foster stronger adult-student relationships; utilizing proven conflict resolution programs that reduce violence, and securing school entrances with locks,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project.

This month Colorlines spoke with Los Angeles youth and asked them directly: what would make their schools safer? Are more police or armed security guards the answer? Watch their answers here.

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