Let’s review for a New York minute what I wrote about in my previous post regarding guns and active shooters and how our culture is being influenced. In my previous article I identified that the United States is suffering from an epidemic of gun-toting mass murderers. It’s my opinion we’re fighting a battle against recognizing mental health issues and getting the government and private sector to agree that there is a problem.
In the previous article I introduced you to Dr. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist well-versed in the psyche of a crazed gunman and mass murder trending in America. He opines there is a three-pronged approach to stemming the tide, which is as follows:
• Invest in gun safety, education, and training
• Initiate threat assessment expert panels and/or teams working with the government
• Launch programs around mental health awareness
Let me break down my view on the this three-pronged approach. Since I believe the Second Amendment will not be abolished, let’s look at gun reform. There needs to be a universal gun registry where the purchaser has demonstrated competency before purchase and during possession of any firearm. Couple this requirement with a criminal and civil background check. Anyone with a violent criminal history or conviction, history of domestic violence, or clear evidence of mental illness should not be allowed to purchase or possess a firearm. Along with these stated requirements, each purchaser must complete a mandatory gun safety and training class, after the background check has cleared.
The second component to this process would be utilization of professional resources. There are many qualified threat assessment expert panels consisting of threat assessment professionals, forensic psychologists, and mental health experts that could be on an approved government vendor list. These panels would consult with government agencies as well as work with the Department of Education and businesses to do training and educate in a common-sense approach. The goal would be to teach how to recognize the red flags and become proactive in addressing any issues seen and then seeking proper assistance and invoke follow up.
My belief is EVERY school and university should have a school resource officer (SRO) on campus. If budget constraints are an issue, then a government-funded grant should be provided to allow the development of this position. A well-trained SRO would recognize potential threats within a school system and address any dangers directed at our children. I speak with authority and experience, and assure you that based on training and education, since the inception of placing SRO’s in some schools, they have prevented violence and/or active shooter tragedies. This funding I speak of, the policies surrounding this, and the SRO position, should have been put in place long ago, especially since the Columbine High School shooting back in April of 1999. It’s mind-boggling and a travesty that 20 years later the politicians have not been shocked into an awakening.
Historically, SRO’s have been in existence since 1953, when the city of Flint provided the first documented SRO to their community. The topic was not broadly discussed until 1968, when in California the Fresno Police Department looked to the SRO program as a tool to “revitalize its image in the eyes of its youth.” This early adaptation of the program involved placing plain-clothed officers in middle schools and elementary schools to foster the relationship between the department and the youth. This continues to be a goal of this long-standing program.
Since the 1970s, the role of SROs has moved from mentors/educators to crime prevention and law enforcement. In the 1980s and ‘90s, SROs were facilitators in crime prevention programs, such as in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) and the Gang Resistance Education and Training program (GREAT). From the mid-1970s to 2008, the number of schools with police stationed on campus rose from approximately 1 to 40 percent. In many states SRO’s are the main enforcers and interpreters of the school disturbance laws.
Here’s my point: The wheel has already been invented and it has been rolling. Why are we not making SROs a mandatory position for all schools and universities?
As mentioned earlier, mental health awareness was the third prong in a well-thought-out approach to addressing these issues. All three prongs are equal in importance and need to work in sync when moving forward. During my early years as a police officer, we had a much different approach in dealing with EDPs. We did not show compassion to them. We were told to just give them tickets, which turned into warrants, which turned into arrests. These numbers then turned into statistics for productivity and were subsequently reflected in our performance evaluations. And round and round we went. This is the perfect example of running on a hamster wheel; all energy and speed but going nowhere.
As I reflect on this past training, I recognize this approach was not the only attribute to the problem. Reflecting on the citizens I represented, served and protected, these same people would step over a sleeping homeless person when walking on the beach, or walk to the opposite side of the street when approached by an EDP. As I’ve aged and embraced life experiences, I understand there are many reasons why someone may be suffering from mental illness. Our responsibility is to educate ourselves on the causes of mental illness instead of ignoring the issue or looking upon it as a stigma. It is a health issue. We need to address it the same way we do heart disease or any other physical health issue. These EDPs are still human beings and deserve respect. I wonder how people have more compassion for animals than they do human beings.
As stated previously, I don’t have the ONE ANSWER that would resolve this epidemic of active shooters. Although it may sound ridiculously cliché, I believe we have failed as a society to act humanely. Instead, we stand on our soapbox and point the finger, casting blame onto others and shouting, “It’s not working.” We look at everyone else instead of reflecting inward and searching for what we can do for our own family, for our own community.
I realize I’m asking more questions than providing answers, but here’s another one: Why does it take a catastrophic event to act with love and compassion towards our own?
We all remember 9-11. Who can forget what happened in Las Vegas re Route 91? Tragedy is not a discriminator of race, religion, education, political beliefs, or gender. We become equals, experiencing the same fear and horror. After each event, there were moments of peace, love and compassion demonstrated towards each other, regardless of affiliation. People lined up in front of churches after 9-11. There was an awareness that faith and religion were important. We heard of men giving up their seats on the subway for women. The tenor of New York City changed dramatically, and we noticed anger was replaced with understanding and empathy. However, as quickly as the national tragedy affected our society, things reverted to what it was like before.
I’ll give you some insight into my thinking. I wonder if a politician or if his family were directly affected by an active shooter, would they care if any of this was part of the Democratic or Republican agenda. Or… and this is my hope, would they move for change no matter their political affiliation or if they were up for re-election.
But wait, this already happened on January 8, 2011, when U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot by a paranoid schizophrenic man. She was permanently injured, and six people died. Following the shooting, American and international politicians expressed grief and condemnations, and gun-control advocates pushed for increased restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition. There were those who blamed the political right wing for the shooting. This wasn’t a right or left issue. This was a mental health issue and it was well-known the shooter hated all politicians.
I have conservative views. I believe in the promises of the Second Amendment. I, too, have been directly affected by a shooting incident. My youngest daughter attended Route 91 and survived the shooting. We were the lucky ones. We were blessed our daughter returned home. As a parent, I try to wrap my brain around the thought that Stephen Paddock shot at my daughter, my baby. She and her siblings are the ones I’m supposed to protect.
Here’s the bottom line, the very children we’re entrusted to protect are the ones who are our hope to make change. Let’s keep them alive so they can do their jobs. Let’s start a mental health awareness revolution. WE HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE. Let’s take the common-sense, three-pronged approach I outlined earlier, without agendas and without special interests; but, and this is a BIG but, let us keep our Second Amendment rights.
I was called into service to preserve life, no matter whose life it was. There can no longer be blame or finger pointing. All of us need to take ownership, take off the blinders, get involved, and follow through. Let’s give meaning to the clichéd responses of “Vegas Strong” and “Never Forget.”
Let’s not forget. Let’s not become weak and complacent, as we have in the past once the horror has subsided. Let’s remain strong. Our charge is to INITIATE change and STOP the violence.