What words can express the rage, fear and helplessness that everyone with common decency feels about Newtown? Has America truly become amok? What kind of political system do we have when assault weapons, whose only purpose is mass murder and certainly not defense, can be so readily obtained?
There are many questions, but for me the paramount one is what can be learned from this the worst of all tragedies to prevent the same from occurring in the future.
Presently, I do consulting for an educational services provider involving interviews with school administrators, counselors and teachers. Every single school I’ve visited is like a fortress where I have to announce myself to get buzzed in through an intercom. Once inside, there are usually poster-size messages done by children about safety. It is a fresh experience each time because during my childhood years in a poor Bronx neighborhood there were no intercoms and we didn’t concern ourselves with safety. Safety was a little thought about given. That was then and this is now.
It is obvious that the intercom isn’t enough, a reed against the waves.
Over the last week, several professors with good intentions have urged that mental health services be expanded to reach out to troubled youth when very young. From a practical standpoint it is ludicrous, like tilting at windmills. There is Grover Norquist and his lapdog followers standing front and center to contend with. Norquist, unelected and uncharacteristically silent about Newtown, has sizable celebrity with his no more taxes baloney. Taxes pay for all services. Schools all over are struggling just to maintain staff. Remember the days when extra-curricular activities were free? Remember the days when teachers didn’t need to buy supplies with their own money?
Another suggestion is to have an armed uniformed guard in every school, reminiscent of how big-city banks used to operate. This is foolhardy since the uniformed guard would be first to die, with further killing apace.
In answer to what can be learned and what to do, my view is that anyone intent on murder and ready to do so at the risk of his own life can only be stopped by force right there and then. This can only be done if one or more within the school are covertly armed, such as with the airlines and as is practiced in Israeli schools. It is repugnant that it has come to this, but what other option is there? Even with a future ban on assault weapons (a wonderful assumption that may not be realized), there is already a flood available to last for infinite years to come. The people elected to Congress have ensured this.
A very strong and ethical counter argument holds that young people who go to college to earn degrees for careers in teaching are not the type to carry handguns. It is true, but like the intercom, these are different, far more violent times. I’ll wager that right now the percentage of male schoolteachers with families who have a gun at home is substantial.
By extension, recently educators have said on TV, “We don’t need guns in schools.” How many tragedies must there be then? I’ve also heard presentations by supposed experts on school violence whose main point is that the indicators for those who act out are at hand if only peers speak up. The fact is peers rarely speak up for a wide variety of reasons. It is a sad fact that most often it just doesn’t happen.
Two nights before Newtown, I was at an elementary school event featuring preschoolers singing holiday songs. The crowd was huge, filled with kids, parents, grandparents and teachers, all having the greatest time. Had a deranged youth been present, it would have been carnage. The timing made the thought impossible to dismiss.
It is nonsense to say that schools are the safest places for kids to be. The data may indicate that to be so, and good news it is, but as this horrific incident has shown monstrous acts can happen in any locale at any time without a scintilla of warning. If money somehow appears in the pipeline for mental health services, that would be great, but I don’t see it taking place in the near future.
Good intentions are not enough to combat cowardly evil.