The Times West Virginian

December 30, 2012

How can we avoid another tragedy?

Times West Virginian

— In the wake of a disaster, caused by uncontrollable forces or at the hands of men, we ask ourselves why.

No, we usually point our fingers. But that’s just a natural human response. We blame. We use it to gain political support. We say someone else is responsible. We say these deaths could have been prevented “if only.”

The two saddest words in the English language when put together, it seems. If only ...

And it seems as if those words are being used so much in the wake of the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., which left 28 including the gunman and his mother dead.

“I think when we go through the grieving process there are different stages,” Lillian Bittman, a former member of the Newtown Board of Education and volunteer at Sandy Hook Elementary School, told USA‚ÄąToday. “There was a very hollow feeling in town. (When schools reopened), as those of us with children in school put our children on the buses, we started crying uncontrollably. I think that whenever you have tragedy and you go back to ‘normal,’ it feels wrong somehow. I think we’re at the stage now of deep, deep grief.”

And then the deep, deep grief turns into something else in the national dialogue.

More gun control. Bans on semi-automatic weapons.

First and foremost, we must return to a saner gun control policy and finally overcome the political paralysis caused by the bullying of the National Rifle Association. Allowing almost free access to ridiculously powerful firearms will lead inevitably to ever recurring massacres of the innocent. Guns do kill people and military-grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons kill quickly, indiscriminately and with such brutal efficiency. — Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus, Duke University.

More guns. Law-abiding citizens are sitting ducks if you ban guns. Why? Only the criminals will have them.

When something bad happens with a gun, I think most people’s natural reaction is to think, well, if I just get rid of the guns, bad things won’t happen. The problem you face is: Who obeys the law? If you pass laws that primarily disarm law-abiding individuals, and not criminals, you produce the opposite effect that you’d like to have. — John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime.”

Armed guards at school buildings.

You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. Will you at least admit it’s possible that 26 innocent lives might have been spared? The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. — NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

Better communication with school children and staff.

Ingredients for a safe school certainly vary depending on the location. But researchers in the field of academic achievement and school safety and discipline have found that the existence of security hardware like metal detectors, security cameras, policing, etc., actually can create the kind of climate that increases the likelihood of violence and disorder among students. In other words, if you treat kids as if they’re potential criminals, and create a learning environment that’s more prison-like, they’ll behave in a way that reflects that expectation. — Investigative journalist Annette Fuentes, author of “Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes the Jailhouse.”

Help for families that hurt.

No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken health care system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nationwide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all. — Liza Long, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”: A Mom’s Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America.

With everyone offering their perspective on the tragedy in Newtown and how to prevent something like this in the future, we thought we’d give our readers the chance to add to the nationwide dialogue. Last week on our online poll question, we asked, “How do you think that we can avoid another tragedy like the one in Newtown, Conn., which left 28 dead including the shooter in a school rampage?”

And here are your answers.

• Better school safety preparedness — 21.25 percent  

• Better assistance for families coping with mental health issues — 22.5 percent

• Stricter gun-control laws for semi-automatic weapons — 27.5 percent  

• Nothing. Try as we may to prevent them, there’s always going to be someone determined enough to destroy others — 28.75 percent

We wish we knew the answers because it pains us terribly to know that another mother or father will have to say goodbye to their child far, far too soon because of school violence.

So we’ll say a prayer for those who are hurting and grieving. We’ll say a prayer each day as we send our children to school. We’ll say a prayer for the leaders and the lawmakers.

And then we give it to God, because he knows the answers that man can never seem to come up with.

Let’s continue this conversation this week because we want to know your thoughts on having armed guards or police officers in schools.

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor