Dear Senators and Representatives:
Your action is required. The American people are demanding it and rightfully so. Please remember that you work for us. Common sense is what is needed. Our nation has been torn apart, is grieving and it is time for you to do the work you were elected to do. That is, to represent all people, to look for common ground and to act.
You have the power to make sure that a school shooting never happens again. Although there are many things that need to be done, a tapestry of initiatives that need to happen, there are actions that all Republicans and Democrats should agree upon and can be put in place quickly.
It is also important to have facts straight and to stop those who are waging fear for their own purposes. If you ask, you will find that no one is trying to take away the right to bear arms. It is a fallacy promoted to fan the flames.
What most reasonable, clear-headed citizens want is limitation on the types of weapons that are designed only to kill people — as many people as possible at a time.
Starting with small steps such as raising the age limit to 21 to buy a gun, banning bump stocks, requiring valid background checks whenever anyone is buying a gun, without loopholes, is a good start. You can do this.
Let’s talk about “mental health.” First of all, please get the words straight — words matter. If you study the history of school shooters you will find a very distinct pattern.
These are young people (usually boys) who feel socially disconnected, have a fascination with guns and weapons, are drawn to violence and feel alone. They have often been bullied and want someone to pay attention to them.
These characteristics do not fit any specific category of “mental illness.” It is totally inappropriate for our leaders to use such terms as “sicko,” mentally ill, crazy, etc., not only because it disparages individuals with mental health needs but because you need to know what you’re dealing with to take the proper action.
Rather, start using a more accurate description. These individuals are severely socially and emotionally disturbed.
What are some ideas for addressing this problem rationally and systemically?
• Increase the number of school psychologists and counselors in the schools and provide adequate training.
• Set up a system within each school composed of a school psychologist, a counselor or social worker, a teacher, an administrator and a law enforcement official. Have teachers and students report any concerns that tap into the aforementioned characteristics to this group so that students at risk can be not only monitored, but offered services and can be brought to the attention of law enforcement. Immediately alert and provide resources to the parent whenever a child is brought to the attention of this team.
• Allow the use of the Baker law which gives law enforcement a temporary right to confiscate all weapons for a student at risk.
• Recognize that the curriculum at schools needs to include social and emotional development, very specifically, starting in elementary school. Social and emotional development is probably the most important component for assuring future success for students and needs to be put on an even par with academic growth.
• Make sure that there is an integrated system with law enforcement so that any student identified as being at risk is being monitored, including looking at social media, interviews with parents, and home visits. Law enforcement needs to be primary at this point.
• Give private psychologists an avenue to report concerns to such a designated group without infringing on HIPPA rules. A student may not be at the level of being a danger to self or others, which requires notification, but if these characteristics are noted, someone needs to know about it.
Please address these needs and address them quickly. We simply can’t wait any longer.
Lynda Boucugnani-Whitehead, Ph.D.