The number of multiple shootings in the US has reached an unthinkable level. Since 2005, there have been 431 shootings - that’s right, 431 involving three or more people being killed or wounded. Ignoring the carnage made Newtown’s tragic shooting as inevitable as America’s preoccupation with guns has perverted the ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The number of multiple killings has increased in the US, but none impacted North America and beyond like the 20 deaths of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They were six or seven years of age and in them, we see our children and grandchildren. This is what makes this tragic event so painful and caused tears well beyond Newtown.
The proliferation of guns in the US can best be illustrated by a few well-documented facts. There are 89 guns for every 100 people, whereas in Canada there are 24 guns per 100 people. The present homicide rate in our province, and in particular Halifax, also calls for action to reduce killings and injuries.
In the US, as many as 40 per cent of guns being sold are being done so by unlicenced dealers. Some are AR-15s, which was the weapon in Newtown, Conn. They can fire 30 rounds or more of ammunition. They are killing machines, designed for war. The four states with the highest gun death rates - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska and Alabama - are the states with households having the most gun owners.
So now we ask the question, “What can be done to reduce these massacres and return to a more civil and caring society?” There are a number of proposals that are being advanced the make the improvement desperately needed. The NRA (National Rifle Association) are calling for armed guards in schools. The NRA executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre, is insisting there is no need for stricter gun laws, but rather place guards to police the country’s nearly 100,000 public schools.
A second possible initiative is training teachers and school personnel to have guns available in the school to protect children. Whoever thought that knowledge of a gun and target practice would be part of a teaching degree?
A third approach is parents resorting to the purchase of armoured backpacks. Manufacturers say that while they don’t guarantee children won’t be killed, they could be used as shields. I think this is not serving to keep children safe; in fact it is serving to increase their fear and their suspicion of their peers.
A week later, as the chiming of bells reverberated throughout the nation and observances were held around the world, these moments also challenged us all to take action. In Washington, religious leaders from a broad range of faiths gathered at the National Cathedral to call for their congregations to lobby Congress to enact gun control and mental health reforms to address pervasive gun violence. Over the next four years, President Obama will take action, especially in banning the purchase of assault weapons, since there are now more in the hands of Americans than owned by the US Army. Mental health issues are correctly identified as a root cause of the killing rampages, and it is in this area that change will produce real and long lasting results. From the early years, through the school years to post secondary education, we must take bold measures.
First of all, the time has come for an initiative to build a national universal early child development system. There is now a generation of adults who had early childhood education based primarily on learning through play, socialization and foundations for transition to school. We know a great deal about what our children should experience from the end of parental leave to school entry. We are also seeing the evidence that significant numbers of mental health problems come about as a result of troubling early experience. As Margaret McCain said in a recent interview, “No child was ever born violent, and they become violent through their early and developmental years.” This is why the work of Valley Child Development is critical work; high quality nursery and pre-school programs must receive proper support because two parents in the workplace is not going to change.
Something is wrong in society and better gun control will not fix it. It is my contention that more must happen from K to 12 to address behavioural issues, anger, students who are alienated, bullied and, in ways, are the outsiders. There are many in our schools for whom the system simply does not work. My years in the school system conclude that kids need to be seen for who they are, not for who we want them to be. They need to be listened to no matter what they say and need to be touched with nurturing affection. It is in this context that we will discern those who need special (professional) help to constructively manage lives that have social, emotional and even psychotic disorders.
Evidence-based research indicates school communities, resourced and trained to handle mental health issues, achieve higher health and educational outcomes. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting deaths are calling on us to change, and it’s our work to make sure every human is to be protected and loved.