By Bob Houghtaling
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
This is not about politics. This is not about blame. This is not about taking away people’s rights. Gun violence is something that needs to be confronted. For a two-week period I’ve been answering calls pertaining to whether or not our schools are safe. Parents are scared. Their children are scared. I’m scared for them.
Let’s be very clear – our local school leaders and police department take safety concerns very seriously. When incidents do occur they are addressed with care. I see this every day. Oftentimes I am a part of it. We are not perfect, but care and the best solutions of the moment are provided. With this said, more needs to be done. Our nation’s leaders have to take measures that curtail access to assault weapons. They also have to institute viable background checks. These things need to be done.
Schools are now being asked to increase security. Many already have resource officers (we have two excellent ones) and now active shooter trainings are being carried out in a number of districts. Tragically, today’s climate has presented us with the need to prepare for the worst. That is why school trainings and protocols pertaining to shootings are essential. While we cannot control all of the variables, there is much that can be done.
Something else can be done as well. Social and emotional learning is an area that is often forgotten when discussing school safety. Building community, enhancing resiliency skills, promoting empathy and understanding, are at the core of how human beings treat each other. These need to be taught and valued. These also need to be extolled by each community as part of our value system. Many of the shooters that we read about were alienated, mentally ill, and angry. Their despair, along with easy access to outrageous weaponry, is often a tragic mix.
East Greenwich is a wonderful community. We have many advantages. We have many talented citizens. We have children who deserve feeling that they are safe as they head toward success in school. I love this place and I know you do as well. With this said there is work to do.
“We need to demand that local and national leaders stop their acrimonious pettiness and develop viable solutions regarding gun violence.”
Parents, continue to tell your kids you love them. Continue to encourage, set limits, and model behavior. Also, make sure you explain (depending upon age) that the adults are doing things to keep them safe. After all of this is factored in, make sure that you continue to help them embrace the world and others. Playing ball, climbing trees, joining teams, meeting friends, and engaging family are all vital components that lead to creating capable people.
While it is essential that we come together to protect our young people, something else must be done. We need to demand that local and national leaders stop their acrimonious pettiness and develop viable solutions regarding gun violence. We can’t accept that nothing can be done. We also can’t accept that it’s the other guy’s fault. America has established a culture which embraces over-the-top weaponry with minimal restrictions. Most people can accept guns being used for hunting, home protection, and shooting at a range. Having assault weapons begs the question, “why?”. Does the average person need an AR-15? At the very least we have to examine a bunch of how’s and why’s. In addition, common sense and fairness have to play a role in what’s best for society.
Already there has been plenty of posturing by those supporting entrenched attitudes regarding guns and how they might be controlled. As each side argues, ineptitude prevails. Luckily, there is a hint of sanity being exhibited by some individuals involved. Students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, who witnessed the trauma of our nation’s latest school shooting, have been passionately speaking out. They have called on leaders to lead. They also have eloquently expressed their fears. Amazingly, many spoke of creating hopeful action. Perhaps it is time to look to our young people for some of the answers. I am sure we have many local students who might have much to say.
Adults often claim that children are our future. If that’s so, creating measures to protect them should be essential. Gun violence, much like the carnage we’ve seen at far too many schools, cannot become an accepted norm. We all should be outraged by these disasters. We also should be outraged by the epic failure of our leaders to address the many horrors brought on by mass shootings.
Finally, we all need to communicate better. Fear can often cause us to retreat, lash out, or make rash responses. That’s why we need to talk to each other. Sharing information, creating strategies, and offering support can go a long way towards making us feel safe. Let’s pull together to support each other. Let’s pull together to support our kids. We are being challenged in new and frightening ways. Working together we can find solutions. Let’s make sure this gets done. See you soon.
Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program. He also served on the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee, taught at Providence College Graduate School of Education and was a consultant at the Rhode Island Training School.
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