We must find better ways of protecting our children, but neither gun controls or armed guards offer comprehensive answers.
We are in grief over the loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It is bad enough to lose a loved one, and even worse when that loved one is young. Death by violence adds another dimension to our grief. All of the dead were children, spouses or good friends of villagers. No wonder that Newtown is in deep grief.
We can do better. We need to do better reducing this kind of violence. If a similar thing were to happen in your community there is a good chance one of the victims would be known to you, or perhaps a close friend. My community is currently dealing with two copycat threats. Neither appear serious threats, but the authorities are treating both cases seriously.
Early responses to this tragedy were calls for tighter gun controls. It must be pointed out that the school itself was a so called gun free zone, yet carnage resulted when the murderer forced his way into the school with his weapons. The restriction on guns did not stop him. No doubt some reasonable measures might keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals, mentally incompetent people and those not trained in firearms, but regulations can not eliminate all guns.
A related problem is that existing gun control laws are not particularly well written, and often not well enforced. Where police attempt to enforce them, law enforcement officers are frequently frustrated by loopholes. Students and parents alike often complain if schools resembling prisons.
What if the murder could have been denied access to all firearms. Would he have attacked the children with knives or rocks? How many children could he have killed or maimed if he had attacked each classroom with a Molotov cocktail?
Another early response to this tragedy called for better security at schools. Many schools strive for secure campuses, but the very policies and practices that provide security limit freedom. Some of my former students objected to having to wear ID badges. Locked doors create inconveniences. In the final analysis, even the best security systems can not stop a person determined to do damage.
The other end of the spectrum are those calling for adults in the school carrying weapons. One proposal is to arm teachers. As a retired teacher, I cringe. Students would think it a good joke to get the weapon away from the teacher. Even if no one got hurt, such an act would bring panic. In a lock down situation, the typical teacher must protect 20 to 30 students while following the schools emergency plan. Had I been armed when I was teaching, I would have been too busy in the first fifteen minutes of such an emergency to effectively return fire. The teacher’s first responsibility in such an emergency is to lead the students to shelter. Even if the shelter is within the classroom, the teacher is occupied with making sure directions are clearly given and followed. The teacher must follow published protocol quickly. Ushering students into a safe corner or into a closet are only step one.
Another proposal is to have certified police in the school and carrying arms. This proposal has more merit. They would provide a psychological deterrent as well as a tactical deterrent in an emergency situation. Certainly the presence of a trained and armed security man on campus would have given me, as a teacher, more confidence than a legal firearm in my shoulder holster. Nevertheless, for every strategy, there is a counter strategy. A serious attacker would find ways of avoiding or neutralizing those carrying arms.
There are proposals to provide better mental health care. No doubt this will eliminate some potential troublemakers, but the mental health community can not reach everyone who needs help, and their procedures are not completely successful.
The basic problem is two fold. There are those with reasons for attacking schools, and there are copycats who try the same attack in a different location, or threaten to. The root cause of both categories of offenders is a shortage of morality.
Everyone has some measure of greed and/or bad behavior. By nature, we want things for ourselves, or we want things done our way. Our personal wants do not always go along with what civilization allows. Morality is what keeps most of us from activities that cause trouble with society. Until recently most Americans identified themselves as Christian. While their identification with a church may have been tenuous at best, and faith difficult to see, at least they accepted Christian morality and most tried to follow it.
In recent years, our nation has largely lost its moral base. Far too many Americans live by no moral code except what they personally think is right. The Ten Commandments may say, “Thou shalt not kill.”, but if a person does not see anything wrong with killing, why should that person restrain themselves from shooting people they are angry with? For many, there is no longer any absolute right and wrong, only what they personally feel is right and wrong.
Being a born-again Christian, my preference is for Christian morality, but the problem is not so much the brand of morality as the complete absence of morality, especially among our young people. Any moral system that condemns killing would have discouraged the Sandy Hook tragedy. Even the mentally ill are influenced to some extent by the moral codes they have been taught.
As with most crises, there is no single answer. We obviously need better written and better enforced gun control laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the incompetent and allowing qualified private citizens to carry guns. Those who own guns need to be more responsible about use and storage of those firearms. As a society, we need to care better for the mentally ill, but most of all we need to raise a moral consciousness in America.
We must come to a moral consensus. Judao-Christian teachings have formed the basis or America’s morals in the past. If we are no longer willing to accept Christian morality, the very least we can do is adopt those moral principles that are shared between the various moral systems available in Western culture. To my knowledge, all of them discourage, if not prohibit, killing.
Let us not put all our energy into gun control efforts. Working on improving our moral basis will probably be more effective.
So how do we get the nation back to a moral basis? Clergy and teachers certainly have their duties in teaching morality, but it is on parents that the primary responsibility falls. Parents, check your own moral code. If you do not have one, you had better find one. Parents, teach your children the difference between right and wrong. Teach them well. Make sure your child is not the perpetrator in the next tragic news story.