Having had the weekend to process what happened Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I’ve collected several related thoughts and presented them below. I’m not inclined to dwell on any one topic at this point, but I expect I will respond to any comments.
* When the initial shock fades and the business of honoring the dead is finished, the county needs to have two critical discussions, the first of which is the state of mental health care in this country. There are still way too many cracks to slip through and too much stigma to overcome…although incidents such as this contribute to that stigma and too easily undo any progress our society has made.
* Conversation number two, like it or not, is about our nation’s gun laws. The conversation cannot be about a universal ban on citizens uninvolved with the military or law enforcement communities possessing firearms, nor can it be about relaxing gun laws so much that everyone can have them and carry them unrestricted. Both perspectives are grossly unrealistic. That said, pro-Second Amendment folks need to accept the fact that firm, common-sense gun laws are NOT a step toward “taking away our guns” but a step toward the goal they claim to support: keeping guns available to law-abiding citizens who will not abuse them.
* The nation’s allegedly declining mortality is not a necessary conversation, because this had nothing to do with the gunman’s — or anyone’s — morality. It has to do with one sick individual acting out in a way that made some twisted form of sense in his mind. Using this incident as a lever to push a simplistic agenda for putting society on a proper moral path is both futile and ignorant of the complexity of the many, many topics that play into this tragedy.
* This is one of those times when I am ashamed of my profession. Sticking camera and microphones in the faces of traumatized children to get their feedback on what happened? Disgusting. I would have paid good money for one of those kids to kick a reporter in the shins…or higher, if he could have reached.
* Anyone who honestly believes that this horror was the direct result of the absence of religion in schools needs to re-examine just who they believe God is. What Mike Huckabee and his fundamentalist ilk are saying is, basically, God is such a petty, needy, spiteful, vindictive, callous, heartless being that He would allow the slaughter of innocent children — including those who were and came from people of faith — to prove a point and terrify people into worshiping Him. This is the sort of bile that drives people away from religion and helps paint those of faith who are putting their belief to good use, e.g., comforting those affected by the tragedy, in an undeserved unflattering light.
* Speaking of religious idiots, of course the opportunistic jackasses of the Westboro Baptist Church are planning to picket the memorial services and funerals…and the Ku Klux Klan — yes, THAT Ku Klux Klan — is planning to counter-protest the church. What does it say about the WBC when a hate group like the KKK says you’re going too far?
* Finally, just as in the wake of Columbine, school officials and parents are looking at school security and wondering what they can do to keep their kids safer. Short answer: you can’t do anything, not unless you turn schools into prisons.
After Columbine, schools began implementing security measures that ranged from reasonable and common-sense (locking all access points to the school during the day and driving visitors to a single secure entrance) to a little outrageous (making kids and visitors go through metal detectors). None of that made a difference to the shooter, who forced his way past the school’s safeguards.
What else do people want to do? High concrete walls topped with razor wire? Snipers in high guard towers? Dogs patrolling the school grounds? It won’t matter; if someone wants to get in badly enough, he’ll find a way in, and quite possibly in a manner no one every saw coming because, as has been said, you cannot predict crazy and you can’t prepare for everything. Seal off the schools and someone might go for the buses. Secure the buses they might go for kids at bus stops. Protect kids at the stops and maybe someone will just forget the school entirely and for the after-school youth club or the local mall or the prom.
The truth no one ever wants to accept is this: no one is 100 percent safe 100 percent of the time, and anything adults do in response to Sandy Hook is going to be more for their own peace of mind than for their kids’ safety.
Adults should take some comfort in the fact that such shootings are, really, very rare. I hasten to add that if it happens even once a century, it’s one time too many, but look at the numbers: there are approximately 99,000 public schools in the U.S. (National Center for Education Statistics) and school is open for 180 days a year (U.S. Department of Education). In 2012 there have been four incidents of gun violence in a public school (Information Please database). That’s four days of fatal gun violence out of 17.82 million school days per year.
The secret to reducing, if not eliminating those four days is not to place children in lockdown 24 – seven. All that does is teach them to be afraid all the time. All it does is rob them of something they need to be successful adults: a chance to experience life, good and bad, and learn how to deal with the trials and traumas that will inevitably come their way.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.