Sunday, December 23, 2012

To the NRA and Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA)


I have seen and heard the press conference that Wayne LaPierre gave on Friday and like many in this country I am stunned, astounded, and shocked at his callous remarks.  I understand the 2nd Amendment and I do not advocate stepping on constitutional rights, but LaPierre went too far in his absolute rejection of guns as part of the problem in this country.

More guns are not the answer and arming teachers and principals with guns will only add to the gun problem not solve the gun problem we have in this country.  Arming our schools and movie theatres etc., is not realistic.  Guns only add to the culture of violence and death in this country.  More guns available will only teach our children that guns are the answer to conflict not talking, diplomacy and negotiation. 

While I have said in previous posts that I have taught at an inner city high school that had a policeman present at all times, does not mean it is appropriate in all situations or that teachers and principals should be armed.  Our policeman was there for a variety of reasons, not just to stop mass killers.  He was there to help in the fight against drugs and in the fight against gangs.  Many of our students were members of city gangs who solved their problems and conflicts with guns.  Having a policeman in the school meant a lesser chance of a 'shootout at the OK corral between gang members' happening within the school environment.
Naturally, had a person entered the school building with the intent of a mass shooting, he could be stopped by a policeman on duty.  I see the advantages of that in an inner school setting.  But, not all schools are inner city and grapple with the same issues as we did.

I know, I know, the recent mass shooting in Newtown, CT happened in an affluent suburb, not an inner city.  But, if we want to teach our children that guns are not the answer to anger, hate, gangs and conflicts then we need to CHANGE some things in our country.  Things like:  access to assault weapons, mental health issues, civil vs uncivil discourse, school security, violent movies and video games, kindness, empathy, and goodness towards others.  We need to look at all these things, including guns!

First and foremost in my opinion, we need gun regulation and control in this country.  I am not opposed to revising and/or reformatting our 2nd Amendment to fit the conditions in the 21st century world.  When the 2nd Amendment was written, in the 1700's, a musket was the gun of choice.  Today, the guns of choice are not only handguns, but semi-automatic and automatic rifles that were mainly designed for warfare.  They have no place on the streets of America for daily living.  If guns are not part of the solution, then they are part of the problem.  A rehauling of the 2nd Amendment to make sure that assault guns/rifles are not on our streets is needed.

I fully support and am one hundred percent behind Senator Diane Feinstein and the legislation she plans to introduce to congress in January 2013.  It is a start, a beginning at least, to regulating semi-automatic and automatic guns in this country.  And, yes, everyone on the local, state and national level needs to follow through and ENFORCE these laws and legislation.  It takes ALL of us working together to make the CHANGES  necessary in our country.  I don't believe Feinstein and I know, I myself, am not advocating stripping all citizens of their guns in this country, but from this point forth, assault weapons have to be regulated in this country and that includes the hundreds of rounds of ammunition that go with them.  We have to close the gun show loophole - everyone who purchases a gun MUST have a background check. 

I vehemently believe Nancy Lanza was irresponsible for having six guns in the home around and available to an asperger disordered son.  That is bereft of common sense.  Had Adam Lanza, no matter what state of mind he was in, not had access to the guns at the home, this carnage could have been avoided.  In this county, we make it so easily accessible for those who want to commit mass murder to do so.  

I realize there are responsible gun owners.  My grandfather and uncles have owned hunting rifles for hunting deer and other animals.  But, they did not own these assault weapons for mere hunting and they are not appropriate for mere hunting.  My grandfather and uncles were very responsible with their guns.  They were always locked up and hidden away and not available for any of us to grab in a moment of anger or despair.
In fact, during my entire lifetime, I only ever saw my grandfather's gun once.  I never have had these rifles in my hands, let alone available to me to use.  Therefore, I do realized there are responsible gun owners, but there are too many people out there with guns who are irresponsible, and they need to be held accountable for that irresponsibility.

Assault rifles
 I do realize we have mental health issues in this country.  We need mental health insurance as readily available to us as physical health insurance.  When we want to make cuts in health insurance, where are the first cuts, but in mental health.  We, as a country, have our heads in the sand when it comes to mental health issues.  As the world becomes more stressful and complex, the one health area we need to open up and have more access to, mental health is not available.  Our country is in a financial crunch and mental health is on  the chopping block. 

I am saddened and ashamed to see all the homeless in this country, many who are mentally ill and/or have mental issues.  The mentally ill wandering the streets of America?  What is wrong with us as a society?  Where is our empathy?  Many in this country are only one paycheck away from being one of the homeless in this country.  These are social issues we need to face and take care of.  No one in this country should be wandering around homeless, let alone mentally ill and homeless.  When are we going to do something about this issue?

Yes, we need to be able to identify and quickly get help to those we suspect struggling with their mental health.  I know when teaching in the schools, mental health is not looked upon as seriously as physical health.  If a child falls and breaks a leg at school, immediate help is on the way, because it is something we can see and realize that without immediate and good care the child won't be able to walk.  But, when I and other teachers have alerted school administrators to the fact that a child is at risk of hurting himself or others or we believe has mental issues, the help is not so immediate.  There is a huge bureaucracy that the school and guidance counselors must go through and help can be months away if given ever.  As time goes by, the mental health gets worse and the child deteriorates.  But, that is something we can't immediately see, so it falls off our radar until a horrible, catastrophic event like what happened at Newtown, CT occurs.

I don't believe for a minute there were no red flags that came up during Adam Lanza's life.  If the news reports are true that Nancy Lanza tried to have her son mainstreamed in the Newtown, CT schools, and the school district refused to do so, then the school district also has to look at itself.  While I obviously don't know the specifics in Adam Lanza's case, I do know that in Ohio we have mainstreamed autistic and asperger's children  into regular classrooms.    It can be done.  It should have been down in the Newtown schools.

Had it been done in Adam Lanza's case, perhaps he would not have become the reclusive loner he became feeling alienated by the schools and his community.  That is quite a rejection for a young person to have to take and accept.   Adam Lanza needed to be around his peers, not home schooled in solitude which is what happened to him.  Home schooling did not allow him any of the socialization process with his peers he so desperately needed.  And, in this type of situation which Adam Lanza found himself in, is when I think that a mental health intervention needed to have been done and a plan made for optimum mental health help and an optimum socialization process.

There are so many issues that have to be faced by America in the Newtown, CT mass shootings.  Guns, and the easy availability of guns in this country, has to be faced, Mr. LaPierre.  Yes, we have mental health issues, we have school security issues, we have violent movies and video game issues, we have a homeless issue,  but we also have gun issues in this country.

 If you and the NRA are not willing to be part of the solution, Mr. LaPierre, then you and the NRA are part of the problem.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Arming School principals and teachers with guns?

American AK-47 semi-automatic rifle Type 2

I don't think so!

The recent massacre of first graders, their principal, teachers and school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, CT) by a crazed gunman has started a firestorm of controversy over guns, gun violence, gun control and the culture of violence and death in this county.  Finally, American citizens are standing up to say ENOUGH! about the prevalence of guns and violence in this country. 

I admire, respect and fully support Piers Morgan of CNN for his dogged, passionate interviews at trying to get to the root of the problem and to find a solution.  Morgan, by the way, is British, and a staunch supporter of gun control because he has seen it work well in his own country and all over the UK.  Sadly it has taken someone like Morgan, not originally from this country, to lead this most needed debate in America.  I'm sure he is concerned about his own family, and his children in particular, living in the most violent country on this earth.

During these debates I have been alarmed to see and hear the proponents of no gun control or regulation at all and who think the solution to our gun problem is arming principals and teachers with guns.  They want to turn teachers and principals into gun toting, Rambo-like figures in front of the classroom and in offices. Teachers and principals need the fire power to fight back at intruders in our schools who come to shoot them up, they say.  No more teachers and students cowering in cubby holes and locking themselves in bathrooms and closets to avoid being killed, they say.  Fight fire with fire!
Is this really how we want our teachers to prepare for the classroom?  Because this is how teachers would have to train to 'fight fire with fire' (note flying casings from the gun).  This is an American marine training to fight with an AK-47.  Of course, this also would have to be the new uniform teachers would have to wear to work to fully be able to fend off the mass shooters that come into schools, as this is how many of the mass shooters dress.

This is ridiculous and ludicrous!  As the NEA has said, teachers and principals are present in schools to educate, nurture and protect students.  Period.  They are not there to pull out an AK-47  in  an emergency and kill intruders.  The accidents and innocent by-standing students and others that could be killed by a gun toting teacher are astronomical.  More guns in the school setting will not make it safer for students and teachers.  This is ridiculous and ludicrous!  Where is their common sense and intelligence?   Obviously, they have none!

I am a retired teacher who taught for thirty years.  I have taught in a suburban school, an inner city school, and a DODDS school in Germany.  During those thirty years, I taught at the middle and high school level as my teaching certification is for grades 7-12 only.  Interestingly, I have been involved in practice and real lock-down situations in the suburban, inner city and DODDS schools and at both the middle and high school levels.  Therefore, I have the experience to talk about this topic, even though I have never owned a gun or even held a gun in my hands.

It is unfortunate that during my three decade experience of teaching American students that I had to practice lock-down situations with my students. It is even more disconcerting that I had to experience real lock-down situations for two reasons.  One, when dog sniffing dogs were brought in the schools to sniff lockers for drugs. (Subsequently, students were arrested and prosecuted for drug possession and selling) and second, when unidentified adult males were in the schools roaming around and it was not known whether they were in possession of a gun or not.  Fortunately, these males were apprehended before they could do anything and no guns were involved.  During both these instances, did I ever once wish I or any of my colleagues to have a gun to protect ourselves and the students.   NO!  Guns are left up to law enforcement and the military to use, not teachers and principals.

I will tell you that when I taught in the inner city high school, the head principal did confide in me that he kept a concealed hand gun ( he had a legal license to own one ) either locked in his school office or locked in the glove compartment of his car at all times.  It did not make me feel safer.  It actually made me feel less secure, because I could foresee the accidental shootings that could happen if this gun ever got out of his possession and into the wrong hands.  I truly believed then and I believe now, that the lock-downs were a better way to protect my students from harm.

I taught at Wurzburg American High School in Wurzburg, Germany for the Department of Defense  Dependents' Schools from 1981-82.  There, we experienced bomb threats.  Sadly, not all foreigners like our military presence in their country and yes, even then, terrorists were fighting against us on foreign soil.  Whenever there was a bomb threat, we evacuated the school to protect students.  Fortunately, each bomb threat we experienced turned out to be a hoax.  But, as teachers, we had to be vigilant and on our toes to be ready to evacuate students at any moment.  We also had to have alternate assignments ever ready for students so that when we evacuated we could continue to teach something in our alternate destination.  Is it difficult to teach under these situations?  You bet it is!  Is it traumatic for everyone involved?  You bet it is!

Another added stress that year was that Anwar Sadat, the leader of Egypt,  had been assassinated in October of 1981.  Unbeknownst to those living in the U.S., the military in Europe was concerned about another world war breaking out.  So we had to be ready to evacuate our students from school and be able to evacuate them and ourselves from Germany at any moment.  Is that stressful and traumatic?  You bet it is!  But, every teacher in the DODDS school was properly trained and professional and made sure their students suffered the least amount of trauma, felt safe during these situations, and were properly educated and nurtured during all this.  The teacher has to lead as students take their cue from their teacher in these situations.   Shooting guns is not a cue we want to send to students.

During all my experiences as a teacher, I never for one day felt the solution to any of these problems was for teachers to be armed and dangerous.   A teacher has to maintain a cool head, remain calm, and take care of his/her students in these situations.  A teacher cannot be unlocking and loading a gun of any sort while students sit around and watch or dissolve into chaos.

I can tell you unequivocally and categorically that those teachers and principals at Sandy Hook Elementary School did EVERYTHING RIGHT!  It was not their responsibility to gun down or shoot back at the shooter.  It was and is our responsibility as as society to have seen that the shooter was not present in that school that day! 

I will say that when I taught in the inner city school, that there was a city policeman on duty at all times during the school day and during after school activities.  He was always friendly toward students and staff and kept a low profile except for times when he was needed.  I never felt there was an 'armed guard' in our school, but it was a comforting feeling to know he was there to help in any emergency situation.  And, being in an inner city school, there were times when he actually had to make arrests of students.    But, the properly, trained person for that job was doing it, not teachers.  During my time at the school, the policeman never once had reason to draw his gun.

I don't think having a community policeman at an elementary school is a bad idea.  They are trained in how to handle students and I believe elementary students could learn to trust law enforcement officials in a school setting, and see them as friendly and helpful rather than as 'the enemy.'

I agree that there are many different solutions we have to discuss and consider in making our schools safer for our students.  Arming teachers and principals in the schools is not that solution.  I do not want to see teachers and principals having weapons as those pictured above in our classrooms and administrator's  offices nor do I want to see teachers and principals with hand guns either!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings

What we must do NOW!
Memorial to those who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

The idyllic and Norman Rockwell picturesque town of Newtown, CT was shattered this past Friday by yet another school mass killing.   Where is the moral compass of this country?  How can this nation go on as usual?

Our hearts and minds are wounded by this horrific tragedy.  There are no words adequately available to express our sadness, our grief, and our disbelief to those families who have lost a child, a daughter, a sister, or a relative in these grotesque shootings this weekend.  These mass shootings are as horrific to me as the bombings on 9/11/2001.  I, Newtown, CT and our nation will never be the same again.

Why did it take the gunning down of 20 beautiful, angelic, children from God, placed in our love and care, for our country to finally start the conversations that should have been started years ago?  We must not allow these children to have died in vain.  We must change and reform our entire society.

NOW, we must begin the process of picking up these shattered pieces from this past Friday and reconstruct a society that is loving, caring, and uses civil discourse in its communication with one another on familial, societal, and political levels.  We must first learn to speak to one another in  quiet, thoughtful tones of voices.  What ever disagreements we have with one another, must be met with quiet, thoughtful responses, not yelling, screaming, and angry discourse. 

NOW, we need real leaders in this country, both on the presidential and congressional level to have the political courage to lead us in this civil discourse.  We no longer can tolerate gridlock at any political level - local, state or national.  Civil discourse has to start here and as many like to say . . . "trickle down."  We need leaders at every level of government and society to stop the violence and killing that permeates our nation. 

We have had a culture of violence and death in the country since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Since that pivotal day, anger, guns, drug wars, mass shootings, bombings and inner city uprisings have ruled the day.  Forty years of violence, guns and strife in this country indicates we have been at war with ourselves internally. 

NOW, before we are destroyed from within from this internal war, we must have the political courage to start with gun regulation and/or control.  It is no longer acceptable for citizens to be able to have automatic and semi-automatic guns as our 2nd Amendment right.  That is no longer plausible.  We must stop the sale and distribution of these  types of guns with laws at the federal level.  These types of guns are not being used for hunting anything but fellow human beings.  That the shooter in Newtown, CT was able to gain access to this type of gun to gun down the 26 people at Sandy Hook is unconscionable. 

This type of weapon is not needed for personal protection.  There are guns of lesser magnitude that can be used if we need to protect ourselves.  Arming school principals with guns is not the answer.  Too many accidents can happen if guns become part of the school culture.  That thought is just ridiculous and only continues the culture of violence and death in this country.

I have lived in Europe during my adult life and I know that in those European countries that have gun control,  for example, Germany, Britain, and Spain, that there are substantially less murders by guns in those countries than here in the U.S. where current estimates are 11 - 12,000 murders per year by guns.

NOW, we need mental illness treatment reform in this country.  It must be brought to the forefront and how we treat mental illness must be reformed.  Every American should have access to mental illness treatment as well as physical health treatment.  There needs to be psychological and psychiatric intervention available to distressed children throughout their development and if love and care is not being provided in the home, then they need to be removed and/or intervention required for the entire family. 

There was, obviously, something dreadfully wrong in the Lanza household, for Adam to have felt the only way for him to 'make a statement' was to kill his mother, 20 innocent children, 6 adults and himself.  Both of his parents, Nancy and Peter Lanza are responsible for the love and care of their sons.  Something was dreadfully wrong when it came to Adam.  And, in my opinion, something was dreadfully wrong with Nancy Lanza for introducing guns to an autistic/asperger disordered son.  Common sense tells us this is foolhardy and wrong.  I don't care how many people say Nancy Lanza was a wonderful mother; in my opinion, she was an idiot to take an autistic/asperger disordered son to gun/target ranges and teach him to shoot guns.  That is not the type of learning or hobby Adam needed in his life.  Where was Peter Lanza during all this?  Was he a part of Adam's life?  Did he condone the gun use by Adam?

NOW, we need to regulate the violent, Rambo-like, videos and movies we allow young people to view.  I believe we should all boycott them.  Don't tell me these videos and violent movies do not bring out aggression and desensitize our children to guns and murder.  Our own nation's military uses these violent videos to train our soldiers to fight and kill in wars overseas.  Why does the military use these?  Because it teaches and brings out aggression in these young, impressionable men who need to be desensitized against killing so they can do their job in war.  After a deployment overseas at war, they come home with PTSD and we wonder why they have so much trouble assimilating back into society or civilian life?  They have been brainwashed in guns, murder, and war.

NOW, we need to look within ourselves and change our own and societal attitudes toward love and care of our families and our communities, guns and their prevalence in our society, and mental illness, our attitude toward it and our access to this type of help.  We must become a society of inclusion not exclusion. 

Had Adam Lanza been included within society and the Newtown community instead of excluded and allowed to remain a loner, all those who perished on this past Friday would be alive today.