Schools are safe harbors, but when they aren't...
The joy over the start of winter vacation was muted by news of the school shooting in Connecticut. This tragedy has brought together not only a school and a town, but a nation to offer comfort and support for those who grieve lost loved ones. President Obama said, “Our hearts are broken today. ...”
Our community is linked to theirs in shock and grief as we deal with the senseless act of multiple murder on the Tule Indian Reservation, including the shooter’s mother and children. The loss of the innocent kids here in this violent way is unthinkable, but to have that magnified times 20 young students in Connecticut is even harder. The principal, counselor and teachers who placed themselves between the gunman and the students are heroes.
Families must be allowed time to grieve, but then the work to change policies to keep kids safe must begin again. Having a rational and reasonable conversation about arms regulation, mental health funding and privacy issues in a productive rather than polarizing manner is needed now.
The president said, “We’re going to have to come together to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Parents, politicians, and gun owners, must dialog about what can be done to prevent repeated acts of violence.
New York Mayor Bloomberg, an outspoken gun control advocate, believes the lower crime rate in his city is directly related to his leadership in enforcing stricter gun laws. He personally supported campaigns not endorsed by NRA.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) plans to reintroduce a bill to restore the lapsed ban on assault weapons which was allowed to expire by Congress in 2004. Feinstein said that the bill will ban the sale, transfer, importation and possession of these weapons, as well as clips of more than 10 bullets. She argued that the rights of a few should not become more important than the safety of many.
With 32,000 gun deaths annually, the current culture considers violence almost routine. But, children aren’t born violent, so what leads them down the path of a killer? Parents with mentally ill, violent children need to more easily get help for them.
States have cut off $1.6 billion to these services since 2009, which has resulted in the loss of psychiatric services, medications and crisis support.
De-stigmatizing mental health issues and reissuing funding for these health services would help.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten reminded us that schools are intended to be safe sanctuaries and when they’re not, parents need resources to help talk to kids about violence.
When children bring up events like this shooting, ask what they’ve heard. Correct misconceptions making explanations simple and brief. Acknowledge their feelings and offer comfort. Let them know feelings of sadness, anger, and worry are natural and normal, but also share ways to cope.
Be honest, but reassure them of their safety by saying something like, “Frightening things happen once in a while, but most children are safe at school.”
Maintain routines but keep an eye out for signs of anxiety, such as bed wetting, separation anxiety or aggressive behaviors. Limit children’s exposure to media coverage of the event as well as their access to violent games and movies. Don’t feel obligated to offer reasons why. It’s okay to say that you don’t know why the gunman shot those children.
Previous profiles of shooters have revealed young white males who are bright misfits that often talk about their desire to kill and their suicidal tendencies. Though few can understand the black hole of a deranged mind, when offended, they plot and execute mass murder to aggrandize their life.
By comforting each other in times of trouble, we help bear each other’s burdens. As we learn to let go of what has been, and open to what will be, we pray that the gentle rain of blessing may cool the hot debates and bring new solutions to the old issue of gun violence so that our schools and communities may once again be safe havens.
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.