, Newburyport, MA

January 7, 2013

No simple solution to complex problem

As I See It
Stuart Deane

---- — On many levels — as a parent, a grandparent, a retired teacher, a special education teacher, a citizen and a human being — I am impacted by the latest gun carnage in Newtown, which now becomes the latest reference word for tragedy.

I cannot fathom how a parent could receive such news and cope with the aftermath. I am dumbstruck by Robbie Parker, father of Emily and the first parent to speak publicly. I don’t know how he ever held himself together.

To look at the beautiful faces of the victims is to mourn the lost futures — the birthdays, the holidays, the graduations, the careers, the families of their own, as President Obama so sadly noted in speaking to the town the next day.

As a grandparent, I think of my two young elementary school grandsons just a few towns away from the shooting site. We have indeed stopped at a highway diner in Newtown on our way to and from Connecticut. It could have been our grandsons.

As a teacher, I wonder how I would have reacted and just stand in awe of the multiple brave actions, both from instinct and from the heart, by the teachers at Sandy Hook. So often it has been a teacher who has stood in the line of fire to protect a child.

As a former special education teacher, I also wonder at the effect of possible services for the young shooter, who, by all accounts, was a deeply troubled loner who had difficulty relating to people and life. Could this have been headed off by the appropriate therapies? Or was this disturbance just too great? And, if so, why was he walking the streets?

As a citizen, I just shake my head at the availability of all these weapons. Why is an assault rifle needed? Or high-capacity ammunition clips? Do gun manufacturers ever have doubts about producing the very weapons that massacre children? How many more times must this happen before we decide this is not the way to go? What does this say about us as a society if we continue with the status quo? Where else does this happen so frequently? And how does the National Rifle Association hold such sway? Are there to be no further limits to gun ownership and usage?

The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms was intended for the needs of a militia, not for individuals to run around like cowboys. Does anyone really think that we need guns to protect us against our own government?

And are we really safer from our neighbors by having an arsenal of weapons? An acquaintance of mine, in the weapons business, once told me that I ought to have a gun for protection. He had needed one himself in a road rage incident to back off an oncoming assailant. He fired a warning shot into the air. “If I had shot him,” he said of a family he later came to know, “his brothers would have killed me.” Exactly, I thought.

As a human being, I have to wonder at how we as a society so glorify violence in video games, music and movies. As long as we flock to the theater to idolize men with large biceps and women with large busts who wield assault rifles, we must share the blame.

Do manufacturers of this material ever have a second thought as to what they are doing? Or even a first thought? Could today’s megastars ever turn down such roles as a statement of their concern?

We are, as a famous football coach is noted for saying, what our record says we are — a country with one of the highest gun homicide rates in the developed world.

And all Wayne LaPierre of the NRA can come up with is armed police officers in each and every school? By the way, would that raise taxes?

To paraphrase the NRA itself, all it takes to stop a man with a bad idea is a man with a good idea. Or, in this case, a compilation of potentially good ideas for a complex problem:

Special education referrals and screenings for both learning disabilities and behavioral issues, with a national panel of experts to further develop both tests and treatments.

Continued efforts to develop anti-bullying programs that head off the repeat cycles of violence in subsequent years.

A national commitment to screening children from violence in toys, video games and films.

When special education services have not completed the task of alleviating deviant behavior, a bridge to social services after graduation to continue the treatment, again further developed by that national panel.

With the few potential perpetrators who go this far without satisfactory outcomes, an exit strategy to determine further legal system monitoring, medical facility placement or, in extreme cases, confinement.

A national debate on gun control, with all options on the table, to come up with a sensible, safe policy for individuals and society as a whole. It’s time.

As the president said in Newtown, “We can do better than this. We have to.”


Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.