Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thoughts and Rants About Sandy Hook and the Aftermath

Like most other people, I was deeply affected by the tragedy in Newtown, CT last week.  I am reading the obits of the kids and teachers, listening as day by day they are buried.  I have at once been angry and scared and grief filled and stunned.  Being the father of a 4 and 8 year old, this event breaks my heart. I cannot imagine what those families are going through. Though I know that my greatest fear is the loss of my kids.

I have gone back and forth over writing about my feelings here, as I have been scolded by others in the past for my thoughts. But then I thought, 'Hell Wallace, it's my blog.  I can write whatever I want in here.'  So here goes. Thoughts are in blue, Rant is in red, in case you'd like to skip one or the other.

The shooting has touched a nerve in me.  At night, my former Marine psyche and my former medic psyche combine, and I dream of being in the middle of the woods with a group of kids.  I am carrying a Bushmaster, the same weapon the shooter used.  The kids are from my medic days. In real life, none of them are alive, but in my dreams they are gathered near.  I tell them to stay behind me, because I know a threat is out in those woods somewhere.  My weapon is at the ready, and I am anxious.  I move through the woods with my little group, looking for safety and ready for an ambush. We walk for what seems like hours.  I am on edge, but the kids follow quietly along, well mannered, but not looking concerned at all.
Dreams like that make for long nights.
I can see, in my waking hours, what these dreams mean.  Anxious about unknown threats to my own kids. Thinking of the 20 kids killed brings back memories of the kids I worked on and couldn't save. etc.  So I listen to the stories of the tragedy as they play on NPR.  I limit what I read, or I could easily get sucked in to just doing that all day.  And I wait, because time will pass, and so will the raw nerve this event has poked.

I am hoping, too, that the rhetoric will fade quickly.  The fallout of ridiculous things people say, either attempting to cope with the event, or in the case of some "politicians", for the attention. 
"We need more gun control!" "We have to arm the teachers so they can fight back!" "This happened because we took God out of the schools!"
These are the three biggies that I've seen lately, and frankly, they are annoying me.  People who spew stuff like this are not thinking through the event, nor are they able to see the big picture right outside their little worldview. So I'd like to share my thoughts on these three topics.
1. Needing more gun control. 
While I agree that there are many weapons that should be banned from civilian ownership and use - semi auto rifles come to mind - Gun control regulations alone will not prevent another shooting.  Someone wanting to kill and create chaos will still have access to pistols, hunting rifles and shotguns.  Nobody will be able to ban those. The Internet will still have instructions for bomb making and chaos creating.  When I was a Marine, we had a whole class on expedient weapons... How to kill people using everyday items.  Those who want to kill will find a way.  Why is that?  If you look at the shooters in these mass killings, they have some traits in common.  Anti-social behavior, prior violent behavior, mental illness. Are you starting to see a common thread? Bottom line is, gun control alone won't solve the problem.  We need to be looking at our national mental health system and making some serious reforms and improvements.  I see that gun control is in the spotlight right now, and I am hoping (and letter writing to my government officials) that mental health issues are brought into the spotlight as well.
2. Arming teachers for deterrence.   
 The principal at Sandy Hook had many good security measures in place. Locking doors, lockdown procedures, etc.  Yet still it happened.  Well, a locked door made of glass is not really much of a deterrent. Solid core steel, perhaps. Or a multi-paned door reinforced between the windows so getting past the door would be impossible. Bullet resistant windows that open enough for air, but not enough for getting in, perhaps with a release inside to pop the window for emergency exit.  Classroom doors that lock from the inside would also help. 
Putting guns into the hands of the teachers though - not so much.  Why? They are teachers.  With the exception of a handful of prior service folks, most of them have never handled weapons. Even if you teach them to shoot, will they be able to shoot another human being? It isn't as easy as target practice. Besides, they should not be expected to be anti-terrorist commandos on top of their teaching duties anyway. 

Perhaps a room near the main entrance could be used as a security room. Camera's showing every entrance to the school, doors and windows, and set up to show anyone approaching.  A trained security guard monitoring them all, with perimeter alarms to notify him or her when someone is approaching or trying to get through an outside door or window.  The guard could see an armed assailant coming and lock everything down and notify the authorities.  Perhaps this guard could also be armed, so they could be prepared as a last resort should a shooter actually gain entry. The job of the teacher would be to lock their rooms, barricade the doors, and wait for the good guys.
Of course, overhaul would be costly.  But I wouldn't mind paying a bit more in taxes to secure the building where my children go to school. What is it worth to do everything possible to prevent Sandy Hook from happening in your kids school?
3. God is forbidden in schools.
This is the one that really ruffles my feathers.  People making this argument apparently have little respect for the US Constitution and a remarkable lack of faith in their God. The first amendment was written to protect religion from the state, and the state from religion.  People who think that their personal religion is the only "correct" one bug me anyway, but to think that God is not in schools is ridiculous.  My son has a faith in the Christian God that is remarkable for a boy his age. I love that about him.  I know that every day he walks into that school, God and Jesus and his faith go with him.  Our government denying a single religion to proselytize in public places like schools does NOTHING to detract from his faith.  Nothing. Any single religion griping about not being "allowed in schools" is just arguing to circumvent the Constitution that I have sworn to protect and defend against all enemies, foreign or domestic. 
If you are reading this and are one of those people who feel the need to argue to let your God back into schools, consider this.  How would you feel if there were Muslim religious teachings enshrined on the school walls? Lessons from the Torah on the blackboard for your child to study? What about meditation rooms where the children are taken for a class to learn how to be a better Buddhist? Dress codes inspired by the Sikh religion?  Christian parents would flip out.  Yet you would argue for putting the Ten Commandments up, or starting the day with prayer.  "If only God were still allowed in school!!! This never would have happened!" Skittlefarts.  It would still happen. There is a difference between private religion and public religion.  A good book to read on the subject is Jon Meacham's American Gospel. He does a great job of explaining the why's and how's of it all.
Also, do you seriously think God is powerless to go into public places simply because your teachings aren't followed in that place? That makes your god a pretty wimpy deity. The God I follow is bigger than any Government.  God is in the schools.  In the hearts of those who believe.  Teach your religion in your homes and in your churches where they should be taught. Let God worry about the public places.

This event stirred up a lot of emotions in me. I will grieve for the families of those who were killed, and pray for them in my own way.  I will be pressing my Government to look more into mental health issues, in the hopes that people who need help can get it before they resort to this. I will remember that everyone has their right to say whatever they want about their beliefs, even when I think they are misguided and wrong, and try not to get too upset about it.
Mostly though, I will hug my kids tighter, treat them with as much love and gentleness as I can muster, and cherish this life that I am living. Events like these can help bring into focus what is really important in life. I am fortunate in a way to have had some really horrific calls as a medic. For years now I have been been able to focus more on the blessings in my life.  My wife.  My kids. My family and friends. My job as an artist. It makes a huge difference.

Bad things will still happen to good people.  But the sun will rise again, and in the end, all we can do is love our family and friends, and show love to others. Stand with each other as we make our way through life.  Do the best we can with what we have, and enjoy the time we've been given as much as we can.  May God keep and protect us all.
More Later