When I was younger, I heard about the shootings of innocent children caught in the crossfire of gang-related violence in communities such as Watts and Compton. While feeling terrible for these victims, I always had a sense of safety and security that nothing like that would ever happen in my safe community or school. And back then, it wouldn’t have. I am finding it so unimaginably horrific and tragic that in today’s times, no one can say that. Even in the nicest and “safest” of neighborhoods, no one is immune…not at the movies, not in a shopping mall, not at school. In fact, ironically, Marlon (my husband) is just as safe walking to his car late at night in South Central LA as our kids are going to school in Irvine, one of the safest cities in the country for many consecutive years.
In the last eight months school shootings have occurred at Chardon High School in Ohio, Banks County High School in Georgia, Stillwater Junior High School in Oklahoma, Casper College in Wyoming, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Taft High School in California. There have been between 135 and 140 documented school shootings in the history of the United States.
Most of the shooters have been someone in the community with mental issues and access to a legally obtained gun. These statistics are staggering, and the problem is getting worse. Over the summer, serious threats to the safety and security of a local high school administration and students were made by a mentally ill parent. Shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, students at a local high school were put on lockdown, because a student walking across campus at a time he was supposed to be in class, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, looked suspicious to a teacher who called the police. Last week, police were out in full force at all of the high schools in that city because of the rumored possibility of explosives being set off (based on anonymous calls to a crime hotline). This is NOT the kind of environment in which children should be going to school.
Something needs to be done about this NOW, not after more incidents have taken place. Teachers in our classrooms need to be able to focus on teaching our children, not on how to keep them from being shot. The answer is for our country’s leaders to figure out how to make this stop.
While everyone debates about the NRA and whether or not guns should be banned and whether or not schools should have armed guards and even armed teachers, government needs to focus on the bigger issue – providing more resources for mentally ill individuals to get the help they need, as that is the real root of the problem. Guns do not kill people – people kill people. Only when we are better equipped to deal with how to get mentally unstable individuals the help that they need will we really be able to deal effectively with this epidemic.
The secular community can take some lessons from the Jewish communities. We Jews are not strangers to the need for extra security personnel. Ever since the 1999 shooting at a Jewish Community Center school in Los Angeles, most Jewish day schools have armed security guards on their campuses. Extra police officers and security are commonplace at synagogues during the high holidays, and our wonderful armed security guards at the JCC are there for more than just to open the door for us and say “hello.” The Jewish Federation in Los Angeles is planning a Communal Security Initiative sometime this winter, featuring a security-vendors fair for all Jewish institutions. It has also hired a person with both military and law enforcement experience to serve as a liaison between the Jewish community and local law enforcement to provide training to private security guards at Jewish institutions, and it is exploring an emergency alert system and a closed data-sharing site.
We all need to pull together – our government, our community leaders and ourselves – to brainstorm as to the best way to stop this rampage and then to make it happen… now… before any further incidents occur.