The answer to gun violence is ‘all of the above’

As the gun control debate rages on, the most frustrating aspect of this ideological fight to the death is its “either/or” nature.

It’s not “either/or”. It’s “all of the above.” It’s injecting sanity into our gun laws, like raising the purchase age to 21. If you aren’t yet mature enough to buy a six-pack of beer, you sure as hell aren’t mature enough to purchase lethal weapons.

As for assault-style weapons, ban ’em. They’re designed for killing people. Period. They aren’t hunting weapons, unless the hunter just wants to blow an animal to bits and, in that case, s/her needs a mental health evaluation before being able to purchase any weapon.

If assault-style weapons can’t be banned outright because too many politicians have the NRA’s tongue down their throats, then a secondary license should be required, just as is required for driving an 18-wheeler or bus, and that includes a mental health clearance.

The NRA would scream bloody murder over all these ideas. Let ’em. They’ve become the proponents of bloody murder (follow the gun industry money), so let them scream it too. The national tide is turning. We don’t have the stomach for stepping over the bloodied corpses of children to worship at the altar of the Second Amendment anymore, and that includes many NRA members themselves. The NRA’s screaming is — finally, thankfully — starting to fall on deaf ears.

We don’t just need sanity in our gun laws, we need it in our schools and communities as well, and yes, much of the burden falls on schools, simply because that’s where the kids are. The financial burden, however, should fall upon you and me, the taxpayers. We need to step up and provide funding that puts a mental health professional on every campus. Wouldn’t that be entirely more cost-effective than stationing an armed guard on every campus? And entirely more sane than arming teachers? That’s about the looniest idea ever. I can just imagine some terrified first-grade teacher firing a pistol wildly at an armed shooter bursting through the door, as bullets from his/her own gun ricochet around the room and kill the very students that teacher is trying to protect.

No armed teachers.

Just no.

Not a viable part of the “all of the above” solution.

Rather than arming them with weapons, we must arm teachers with advanced training in psychology and mental health, so they can spot students who on the psychological edge, and get them right over to that on-campus mental health professional. Teachers need a more useful tool in their toolbox than stamping “suspended” across the foreheads of students who seem too difficult to deal with.

Another factor in making schools, our communities and our country safer is to inject the notion of “civility” into our schools; make interpersonal and communication skills, anger management and conflict resolution part of the daily curriculum.

In other words: teach students to behave like humans, to respect each other’s boundaries and be kind to one another. And by the way, high school is far too late. It must begin in kindergarten. Maybe earlier. Before you exclaim that it’s impossible, go talk to the folks at The Treehouse preschool here in Winters. They’re already doing it, with toddlers. Our schools then continue with these interpersonal skills at each grade level. So, don’t say it can’t be done. It’s being done. And if we can do it in Winters, we can do it anywhere.

So, we’ve been focusing on what everyone else needs to do, which is the go-to strategy for all armchair quarterbacking and pontification, but alas, you and I don’t get off so easy. Like Michael Jackson sang, change begins with “the man in the mirror.”

What can you do, in your own community, to help make it safer? Who in your community is slipping through the cracks? Made to feel ‘less than’? Doesn’t have a place at the collective table?”

Figure out the answers to those questions, and start there. Volunteer in a reading program or for a suicide prevention hotline. Coach a sports team. Clean up graffiti. If you don’t have the time or strength to do those things, give financial support to programs that provide such services or activities, even if it’s just a little bit. One dollar by itself isn’t much. But one dollar donated by many adds up. There you go! A starting point: create a “Give a Buck” effort and collect dollar bills to support a good cause.

For me, the answers to those questions led me to Wolfskill High School. It never sat well with me that anyone in my community gets labeled “uninvited.” “Unwanted.” In the “adding insult to injury” category, besides being treated like pariahs, many Wolfskill students are dealing with difficulties and situations that would crush the rest of us… on top of navigating the social and hormonal maelstrom of adolescence.

What possible good comes from ostracizing a struggling teenager and systematically dismantling whatever shred of self-esteem s/he has left? Let me field that one: None. Absolutely none. Moreover: What possible bad comes from that? A cornucopia of horrific possibilities.

My own “walk the talk” commitment was to reach out to those students and through the vehicle of their own school newspaper, strive to elevate their confidence and self-esteem, develop basic job skills, and raise their position in the community; to give them a platform to show their worth and talent. Three years in, it’s happening. Those students continue to amaze me with their stories and personal development as writers. It didn’t take much, really, just patience, coaxing, and encouragement. All they needed was an opportunity to shine — as opposed to being relegated to the shadows.

So, will it have an effect? Will my community be safer because of this effort? I believe it will. I hope so. At least it’s action, which is worth its weight in gold, as opposed to thoughts and prayers, which carry no more weight than the air with which they’re uttered.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s