Another senseless shooting. Seventeen more lives snuffed out and many more permanently altered by a young person who is certainly troubled, if not suffering from some form of mental or emotional distress. We have witnessed the show too many times by now. The major news networks are on the scene and eliciting emotional reactions from friends, classmates and families. We learn about the victims and their lives and the shooter and his life as well.
Politicians, well-meaning or not, waste no time politicizing the event. They bemoan the pain and suffering while backtracking to their corners readying for the eventual war of philosophies and campaign support. And in the end, nothing changes. We just await the next mass shooting.
This insanity is bound to continue unless we, as American voters, stand up and demand change. It is not enough to spend a week or so memorializing the victims and blaming the people across the political fence. Real action must take place. A systemic plan needs to be put in place to address this complex problem. It must be attacked from several vantage points.
If I were asked to produce a plan for curbing these senseless shootings, I would propose the following:
- We must address the issue of gun acquisition and ownership in this country. I am fully aware that the minute you say anything about gun control the NRA and some of their supporters sound the alarm. “They want to take away our guns!” They use the slippery slope arguments that any control of guns is the first step to taking them away from all law-abiding citizens. Most plans that I have seen do not advocate taking guns away from all citizens. We must have some reasonable restrictions on who can own guns and what kind of guns they can own.
The assault weapons ban must be reinstated. No reasonable person would believe that any normal citizen needs an assault weapon to protect their family or to hunt animals. The only purpose for an assault weapon is to kill as many people possible as fast as you can. The only time that I have see them used in my lifetime was to indiscriminately kill people – innocent people and police officers.
Universal background checks must be implemented. Presently, in some states, we are allowing anyone to buy a gun whether they have a criminal record or a history of mental illness. To make matters worse, if Congress has its way, individuals will soon have the ability to openly carry weapons in any state as long as their home state allows it. We could have individuals who have not had any type of background check or gun safety training carrying guns in any state.
Ghost guns must be outlawed. Presently, any person can purchase gun parts that have no serial number or registration of any kind and build the gun using readily available YouTube videos. These ghost guns can be easily bought online or at gun shows and are legal to possess.
And finally, and probably most controversial of all, the police should have the ability to confiscate guns from any individual who commits a violent crime or who threatens to commit a violent crime. If you post on YouTube that you are going to be a professional school shooter as this most recent perpetrator did, the police should be able compel a social media company to hand over your personal information so police can locate you and ensure that you do not have the ability to possess or buy weapons. I understand that our system of juris prudence is based on the rights of the individual. When you abuse those rights and threaten the well-being of innocent people, those rights need to be superseded.
- Our system of dealing with mental illness in this country must be fixed. There are far too many people suffering from a host of mental illnesses that could cause them to be violent and hurt people. We need to first remove the stigma of mental illness so that individuals and families will feel comfortable surfacing the problem and addressing it.
We also need to provide funding to ensure adequate facilities and mental professionals to deal with the multitude of people who are suffering. Presently we are utilizing our jails as make-shift mental health facilities putting a band-aid on the problem. We need to have sufficient long-term care facilities where patients can be stabilized through drugs and counseling before they are allowed to be introduced back in to the population. Follow-up and continuing care programs are also needed for maintenance.
- School systems and school professionals must recognize the essential role a healthy and safe school climate plays in both student safety and learning. The time, effort and funding must be made available to train every individual in each school including staff, faculty, parents and students in the content of school climate as well as the implementation of practices that ensure a safe school climate. Schools and educators should be engaged in a continual assessment of climate in the buildings and classrooms and employing the requisite strategies.
Training should also be provided to staff concerning the role that trauma plays in the everyday lives of their students and what strategies can be employed to not only reduce trauma but also strategies and policies that do not accentuate trauma.
- As a result of a greater understanding of school climate, and the effects of trauma, students need access to behavioral health services. Anyone in any field dealing with adolescents understands that there is a dearth of mental health professionals working with this age group. Even if students and families are willing to accept the services it is extremely difficult to find a professional to provide them. Often, if you can identify a professional, a lack of insurance or transportation become roadblocks. These services must be available and offered at the school.
- Schools must also look at the way that students are disciplined and consequences are meted out. As a part of the overall school climate, students must be held to a standard of behavior and actions with consequences, but consequences should not be arbitrary, applied with meanness or disrespect or overtly or subconsciously applied unevenly based on race, ethnicity or gender.
Suspensions, both internal and external, if applied at all, should be applied only when no other alternative is appropriate. Suspending students outside of school is a poorly constituted form of punishment that in most cases does not change behavior and in many cases disenfranchises students from the school community resulting in alienation and hostility. Many systems are introducing a system that incorporates a more community-building construct and asks students to address the reasons for their behavior, how it has harmed the community and what consequence will allow them repair the harm and rebuild their trust in the community. This is process is called restorative practices. The process seeks to teach appropriate behaviors and keep students connected to the community and growing and learning as individuals.
If it is necessary to separate a student from school for a period of time, we must ensure that we are continuing to work effectively with that individual and providing the tools, emotional and otherwise, to possibly work their way back to the community in the future.
Some will read this and dismiss it as the ramblings of a liberal educrat who does not want to allow individuals to protect themselves or their families, or hold students accountable for their behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. I spent thirty-seven years in schools as a teacher and administrator. I am fully aware of the necessity of keeping everyone safe in each classroom and in each school. I have always considered safety as job one. That includes emotional and psychological safety as well as physical safety.
If we truly are concerned about creating safe schools as well and safe public spaces overall, I believe that we must minimally implement the components of this plan as well as any other well-intentioned ideas that will lessen the opportunity for mentally ill individuals to have the need and means to hurt innocent people.
To accomplish these things will take money, but more importantly, we will need courage and moral leadership. Confront your legislators, local, state, and federal, directly and demand to know what they are going to support and initiate. If they are clearly choosing special interests and funders over the safety of your children and families, run to the ballot box and vote them out.
And when they tell you that there is no money to do these things, tell them to give less tax breaks to billion-dollar corporations who should be ashamed to accept them, and instead put the money into creating a safer America.