In the wake of Newtown, prioritize protecting children

In the aftermath of the massacre of 27 people last week at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 small children, it’s difficult to write anything. It is simply overwhelming, especially the savage murders of tiny children whose lives had just begun. It is truly unthinkable. And yet, we must think, and act.

Conversations about mental health and limits on assault weapons are long overdue. More overdue is concerted effort to try and protect children. While it may be true that there are no simple, easy answers, it seems to me that politicians and the public owe it to the children of this society to do everything in our power to reduce the risk this happens again.

True, the problems are deep and bureaucracy is no panacea. True, the Second Amendment does exist and banning guns, even certain types of guns, will no more ensure their eradication than the War on Drugs has eliminated drugs from our society. True, evil and chaos exist and always have. True, most mentally ill people, even the profoundly maladjusted, are not violent, and there may be no easy way to identify who is likely to crack. True, there are ethical reasons the standard for involuntary commitment in our society is very high. True, while it’s difficult to find a video game or a movie these days that is not obscenely violent, 99.99 percent of the people who play these games and watch these films don’t murder small children. But those can’t be excuses for a failure to try, to do everything humanly possible to protect our children.

Retiring Senator Joe Lieberman called for a commission to study violence in America. “I really believe we ought to have a national commission on violence,” Lieberman told reporters. “These events are happening more frequently, and I worry that if we don’t take a thoughtful look at them, we’re going to lose the hurt and the anger that we have now.”

Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent, is the right choice to lead such a panel. It should be undertaken immediately, while there is momentum. It should examine a ban on the manufacture of assault weapons. Our Second Amendment ensures the right to bear arms, but frankly, everyone in this country knows that the Founding Fathers had not even heard of assault weapons. The Second Amendment, conceived as a hedge against tyranny, will be alive and well if manufacture of assault weapons is curbed and if these weapons are banned for civilian or recreational use. Conservatives may want to weigh in, however, on a study of whether indeed, having a responsible person inside each school–a principal, perhaps, or paid security guard–armed, will indeed be likely to decrease the odds the next lunatic or terrorist chooses a school to target. Here–not in defending the sale of military weapons to civilians–conservatives should weigh in, based on logic and not hysteria or fanaticism. In Israel, one often sees lines of small children accompanied by armed soldiers. Notice that in all the years of suicide bombing and other terrorism, that terrorists have seldom chosen schools. It’s no wonder; they are not “soft” targets.

Perhaps if we are serious that children are our future, children are our most precious resource, etc., we should stop spouting platitudes and weeping, and prioritize protecting our children. That may mean setting aside our squeamishness and moral vanity about being “gun free” and weighing whether, odds-wise, fewer children are likely to be targeted in the future by psychos or terrorists if it is well understood that in every school, there will be an armed guard or guards, or a brave individual like Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who will not hesitate to blow away anyone who attempts to threaten the children.

What a tragedy this incredibly brave woman, as well as the school psychologist–both of whom laid their lives down for these children without a moment’s hesitation–simply had no chance to protect these children. In the face of a crazed monster with an assault weapon, without weapons themselves, what could these brave women do? Unfortunately, confronting the monster was a suicide mission. I’ll say it: both of these women had the backbone. All either of them needed was a gun, and she would have at least had a chance at taking down this maniac before he killed even one child.

Finally, the mental health system in this country is a disgrace. In a system that can afford billions of dollars in stimulus money for projects that no one seems to even be able to identify, we can afford to do better than to have the mentally ill roaming the streets. True, mentally ill who resist treatment are the most difficult population in the world to help, bar none. But evidently, based on the more-than-trillion dollars President Obama has spent on projects most people can’t identify, we’ve got plenty of money. We can do better. Maybe it’s time to take a look at fine-tuning law about monitoring the mentally ill who show violent tendencies and mandating treatment and medication. And if people who have displayed aggressive tendencies and are mentally ill refuse medication, maybe it is time to humanely enforce commitment. There have been some moves in that direction, here in New York, with Kendra’s Law, named for a young woman pushed in front of a subway train by a mentally ill man who had gone off his medication. More to come.

This entry was written by and posted on December 20, 2012 at 12:49 am and filed under Blog.