EDITORIAL: How many must die for laws to change?

WE DIDN’T KNOW THE KIDS who were murdered this time, or the two adults either. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept the horror of the latest massacre. We didn’t know the little ones at Sandy Hook or the students from Parkland, FL, except that they could have been ours.

We live in a state where, statistically, we might feel safer. New York has the third lowest rate in the nation for firearm deaths. We have strong gun control laws too. But we wonder, How safe are the kids?

We’re up-armoring our school buildings, a wise move but a costly one. Our schools were not designed to withstand lethal attacks. Fire safety, shelter from inclement weather and maximum space for classrooms were priorities that now must be balanced against the unthinkable but common profile of intruders–one of the kids.

Last week’s shooting in Santa Fe, TX, shares eerie similarities with a school shooting in East Greenbush in 2004, when the shooter, who had been expelled from the high school, hid a shotgun and walked into the school. That happened years after the Columbine shootings in Colorado–also by students–but before the latest round of response training for faculty, administrators and students in ways likely to save the most lives if an “active shooter” is in a school.

That type of training is going on in Columbia County right now in an initiative of county Sheriff David Bartlett and the county Sheriff’s Office. A number of districts have already been trained. Santa Fe reminds us that the sooner training happens the better. The students at the Texas school reportedly set up barricades at classroom doors and many escaped the building.

The shootings in Texas also suggest that unlike in Parkland, FL, where a police officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hid while shots were being fired, Columbia County school resource officers–sheriff’s deputies and state troopers–will react swiftly and effectively regardless of the risk to their personal safety.

But the sheriff, his deputies and state and local police cannot “solve” the threat from boys or men determined to slaughter innocent people, too often their schoolmates. Each mass shooting is distressing and, worse, each is distressingly similar. This pattern is a challenge to our society yet as a society we can’t even agree on a common understanding of the problem.

Yes, murdering children is wrong. Then the debate starts. One obstacle to finding common ground is the allure of a single a solution. It’s a myth. Getting rid of all guns is as futile as arming everyone.

But a recent Johns Hopkins survey found that majorities of gun owners and those who do not own guns support some restrictions on gun sales, safety standards, universal background checks and “improved reporting of records related to mental illness” for those checks.

The survey suggests lots of people with guns understand that the good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns argument ignores why there are so many bad guys with guns to begin with.

Maybe we’ll have a clearer view of whether room for agreement in this county on gun issues at a forum scheduled for Friday, June 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Hudson High School auditorium. The public event is presented by William Hughes and Hudson School District Supervisor Maria Suttmeier. A panel will address “gun safety, mental health and school safety legislation.” Speakers include Congressman John Faso (R-19th) and Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th).

It’s hard to imagine that anyone will attend an event like this who doesn’t already have strong opinions on every agenda item. Success of an efforts like this event will be measured based on how many people can resist the urge to teach the other side why it’s views are wrong. That’s the end of dialog, not the beginning.

In any case, the panel won’t resolve the gun violence threat. That’s not the point. But it might lead some attendees to discover they can learn from the opposition where some small parcels of common ground exist.

If statistics encourage us to think schoolchildren are safer here than in other parts of this country, that’s wishful thinking. Police are doing their best to protect our kids. Community leaders invite citizens to talk. It’s clearly not enough. The time will come when the toll is so there is no political cover for inaction. For now, we are marking the progress toward that time one young body at a time.

Comments are closed.