No easy solution

Friday was a somber day. As one who follows social media I saw the report of the "classroom that was not accounted for" and hoped it was just false chatter on twitter - praying to God that no children were harmed. The last couple days have been a haze. The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened about 10 miles from my father's house, 10 miles away from the elementary school my brother and sister attended when they were children. The children who were killed were two or three years older than my children. But you don't have to be a Connecticut resident or a parent of young children to be shocked by this incident. Sadly this has all happened before, be it at Columbine High School, the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Virginia Tech and other places (and not just in the United States, although it's certainly many cases here). I thought, for the sake of those involved, this can't happen again. And I know this is a grandiose idea - even with the best plans this will happen again. Everything we know so far tells us that the first responders, local, state and federal authorities that responded in Newtown did everything right.

We know two things about the shooting - the shooter was mentally ill and the shooter had access to weapons that were capable of killing dozens of people in a few minutes.

The second amendment - which was written at a time where it took 10-to-15 seconds to load one shot - a big difference than 100 "rounds" a minute - protects the right to bear arms. Why can't I make my own nuclear bombs? Or for that matter, my own pipe bomb? This thought that a second person with a gun is going to take out the killer is a wonderful fairytale for Hollywood, but play out the scenarios and it's not so realistic. If a "crazed" killer starts firing, (let's say this killer who is prepared and knew they were going to do this and has likely planned it out) the scenarios all involve death. Scenario one "best case scenario", the gunman starts firing his assault weapon and the second person pulls a gun out and shoots the killer. People still die. If the killer was firing a weapon that didn't have a rapid-fire trigger and a clip full of ammo, fewer people still die. Scenario two, the second person pulls a gun and the killer sees it and shoots the second person. Scenario three, the second person pulls out a gun, misfires and shoots more innocent people. Regardless of the scenario, the gunman's rate of shooting is what determines the outcome of fatalities in a "defensive shooter" scenario, once the first shot is fired.

So why should my rights to own types of weapons be taken away? Everyone who gets on a commercial flight in this country willingly (if not muttering something under the breath) takes off their shoes in a security scan. Why? Because of one failed terrorist attack which claimed no lives. I've not heard of any other shoe bombing attempts that were caught from this security procedure. Yet we do this every time we fly. People frown, but everyone does it.

That, violence in entertainment and increased "faith",  those are the things the politicians will talk about, obviously those are factors but it overlooks the underlying cause - mental illness. This blog by the mother of a mentally ill child has gained the attention of the social media circles. This parent has clearly identified and sought to treat out mental illness that could lead to violence in later life. She mentions that she had to change jobs in order to afford health insurance that would cover her son's treatments and hospitalizations. When you see his picture on that page, you will not think this is the face of a devil. And for every child like this child who is lovingly and painfully cared for by a parent, there are hundreds that aren't, that end up in prisons or commit horrific crimes.

President Obama's speech at the memorial service in Newtown highlighted the role of us as parents, not just of our children, but of everyone's children. And, just as importantly, that we can do better. We can legislate against guns like assault rifles and have better background checks on weapon purchasers, and I believe that will decrease deaths (let alone the shootings that aren't mass-murders which happen every day in our poor or inner city areas and go unmentioned), but gun laws aren't going to solve the problem. We need comprehensive reform on how we treat our mentally ill, what the government is willing to do to help the mentally ill and those who support them. Any taxpayer I know would rather have paid to care for the Newtown shooter (I'll continue along the lines of others who say using his name is giving him what he wanted by the crime and only giving the next mass shooter something to aim for for more notoriety) than to have had this happen. And technically the cost of this shooting probably outweighs those costs financially if you think of the extra hours put in by criminal investigators and others dealing with the aftermath. No parents knows how to deal with a mentally ill child, whether that child is 3 or 13 or 23. Ask any parent that has dealt with this - there's very little support or guidance. It's not something you plan to deal with. Think of the wonderful programs for mentally handicapped people that exist now like the Special Olympics, the support they get in schools and assistance in living after high school. Those are great programs. What exists like this for the mentally ill? Jails? State Hospitals?

I'm not a mental health expert but certainly those who are experts should be talking now. I do know this. If you know someone you are worried about, talk to them. Talk to others about them who can help you help them. If people make violent threats, report it. Don't let people disappear to the point where they talk to no one, say something, if not to stop a mass killing, but to stop them from hurting themselves as well.

Violence in the Media? Most people can tell that the scene at the end of Kill Bill I or the game play of Call of Duty are fantasy. Most people would not be capable of such slaughter. But there are people who are and are exposed to these things. That exposure is fairly inevitable. Violence should be curbed, or at least controlled as to who can play these games, watch these films. The government labels movies, games, television shows and music already, however. Perhaps it is the role of parents and caregivers to heed the warning of these labels. The Church? An increased presence of church will help some (certainly clergy and faith can provide support to caregivers and to the mentally ill as well), but it's not going to solve all the problems. The "anti-establishment" culture (to which many mass shooters belong) will, sadly, be fueled by the increase in outward organized religion. Sure, an increase in church and a decrease in violence in entertainment will help, yet we still send our young males into the violent world of the military and war, further away from their churches and those who help them keep faith.

There are no easy solutions, but looking at the empirical facts and the lowest common denominators in these horrible mass murders is a start. We don't want to go through something like this again.


Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Unthinkable. Unable to have a motive. I can't explain it. I don't think if it's somehow explained to me that I'll even have a response. How does someone kill 20 kindergarten children? What happened in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary is unfathomable. I think of my son's classroom; he attends another Connecticut elementary school, filled with decorations by the teacher and their students, pictures, toys and educational games. I drop my son off at his school every Monday. I ring a bell, they let me in, I walk in to get him (the doors are locked). My wife is also a teacher at a school in Connecticut - I visit her many Fridays after my son's therapy nearby. They have lockdown drills to prepare for things like this - "prepare" a loose term, there is no way to prepare for this. It could have been any school in Connecticut, or anywhere in this country - so close to Christmas. I saw my governor and our president fighting back tears as they spoke. Gerry Brooks, the lead anchor on the NBC affiliate here for decades, cried on air. I saw a quote that people are "parents first, then leaders". Anyone who was involved with this incident was affected.

Back in my poetry days, I once referred to my home state as the "Connecticut Miracle". It is truly a wonderful place, not a perfect place, but a great place to live, to be raised and to grow old. In the way patriotic people feel pride in their country, so do I in the state of Connecticut - it's neither too urban, too rural, too cold, too warm, too country, too city - it's filled with tradition and also willing to evolve. If you've never been to Newtown it fits the previous description. It's suburban, somewhat rural and affluent, some homes have horses and livestock and farms. My father's house is 10 miles away; I've driven through it many times. Whenever tragedy occurs in this state (and it has in the past, the CT Lottery Shooting, the beer distributor shooting in Manchester/East Hartford and the Petit Family tragedy) I wonder what people think of this place I'm so proud to call home. So far it seems our first responders (unpaid volunteer firefighters from the same town) and the local and state police handled the situation as best they could. I was proud of them. I was proud as I heard of the actions of teachers in the school who saved the lives of students. Connecticut State Police Spokesman Lt. Paul Vance (who I interviewed in a mock press conference in a journalism class at UConn) handled the situation somberly and well. The local media was guarded, intelligent (they weren't the ones who miss-reported the name of the shooter). It's a small state - there's virtually no one who's lived here all their life that doesn't know someone who lived in Newtown or know people in Newtown. I'm sure when Newtown High School athletic teams play state tournament games that the players, coaches and supporters of opposing teams will support Newtown's teams as their own.

I think to myself - this can't happen again. I thought about it after the theater shooting in Colorado, other school shootings that happened - but it keeps happening. I don't have an answer. It's a gun problem. It's a culture problem. It's a violence problem. It's a mental health problem. There are so many ways we can improve - but this can't happen again. It's struck a stronger nerve this time with me - because it's so close to home. For now, I say we keep talking about this. We talk about Columbine. We talk about what happened at Virginia Tech. And we change. We Change. If we don't change, the next mass killing probably won't directly affect someone you know - but it will affect others - but who knows. If you know someone who appears to be in distress of harming themselves or others, talk to that person, talk to others. No one hunts with an assault rifle - do we really need weapons that are meant for mass killings rather than a single shot? We don't need violence so commonly seen on television and in video games. Half of Janet Jackson's nipple got CBS a million dollar fine but I've seen violence and post-violence displayed constantly on network television.

Twenty children and six adults.Twenty kids who were five or six years old. Please, don't let this ever happen again. Don't be quiet - speak out against this and what causes this. Mourn. Be angry. Fix this. Twenty innocent children.

God bless you all on this horrible day.