Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society

Mass shooting in Sutherland Springs Texas is a Failure of Safety at All Levels

After the mass shootings in Las Vegas last month, and at the church in Sutherland Springs Texas this week, I was feeling totally numb. Then yesterday I received an email message from psychologist Ruth Buczynski that said that feeling paralyzed and powerless are hallmark signs of trauma, and I realized, that’s me, right now. So I decided to work past the paralysis and look at what we know about this latest shooting.

In “Doing Right by Our Kids” we develop a model of protecting child safety at all levels, which means that we make an active effort to protect child safety in all of our roles, and all of our organizations. So for me as a parent, coach, teacher, leader: child safety will always be at the core of guiding my actions.

In my work I am usually talking about preventing child abuse and bullying. But certainly if kids can’t go to school or church without fear of being shot, they aren’t really safe.

But how we address this problem is very important. Where do we invest our time, our care, our money, our emotional resilience? As far as solutions go, I reached a tipping point today when I saw an article about a school in Florida letting parents buy bulletproof panels to put into their children’s backpacks. When we have reached the point where our solution is to tell little kids that they have to defensively armor themselves in case someone comes to shoot them at school, we have FAILED to address this problem.

What does safety at all levels teach us? It is really important to know where problems come from, and in this case there will be vigorous debate about where to look. It reminds me of the man who is looking for his keys under the streetlight, but when someone asks him if he is sure he lost them there, he says “no, I lost them in the park, but this is where the light is.” We need to shine our lights on the heart of the problem and real solutions.

Here is my analysis of the problem looking at it as a failure of Safety at All Levels–and remember, there can be elements of “all of the above” in the analysis:

Is it a gun problem? Yes. We cannot deny it is a problem that the USA is awash in guns:

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people — a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.

Is it an enforcement problem? Yes. The Sutherland Springs killer was supposed to be ineligible to buy a gun because of his Air Force court martial for domestic abuse. but that conviction was not entered into the proper database. Today the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson took responsibility for this and promised to review all cases to make sure this didn’t happen again going forward. In a related discouraging twist, it was reported today that the military has no distinct charge of “domestic violence” in their system. This needs a lot more investigation and fixing.

Is is a laws problem? Yes, it is a problem with laws. Starting with the fact that laws are a patchwork in differences across the state laws. Adding that “bump stocks” that turn weapons automatic were off the market for 30 days after Las Vegas, and went back on sale today. Adding that the Federal Assault Weapons ban enacted in 1994 was allowed to “sunset” (expire) in 2004. There’s so much more–one of Trump’s first actions in office was to oppose a gun-check rule to keep people with mental illness from buying guns. And yet Trump says shootings are a mental illness problem.

Congress is unwilling take action

We can talk about improving laws and enforcement for days, but it is clear that the current Republican-led Congress is not willing to take action on gun laws. What has changed since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011? Little to nothing. Children and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012? Pick your tragedy: Aurora Colorado movie theater, Orlando Florida Pulse Nightclub, Charleston Mother Emanuel AME Church–each one is one too many. Another Congressman Steve Scalise was shot just this year and that didn’t inspire change.

Yesterday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke out forcefully for the need for Congress to take action:

Transcript in: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s speech pushing Congress on gun control after Texas church massacre

Senator Gillibrand called out Congress’ fear of the powerful NRA: “Congress has caved over and over again to the enormous pressure from the NRA and the gun industry, which just wants to protect their profits, and has ignored the vast majority of Americans — gun owners and non-gun owners alike — who support commonsense measures to keep their fellow Americans safe.”

Many people think of the NRA as a organization for hunters and individual gun enthusiasts, and in a sense that is true of course. But really, it’s time to start looking at it as a powerful trade industry organization with incredible lobbying power. Until it is met by an equally powerful response from the vast majority of Americans, including NRA members themselves, who support common-sense gun laws, the NRA may continue to get its way. The NRA is not willing to compromise, and sees any effort to regulate gun sales or ownership as a threat to the Second Amendment.

The power of the US Constitution

As we have been writing our book I have been looking for examples of how powerful the US Constitution is, and how it affects people’s lives. I am really sad that the best example is the Second Amendment and how it enshrines the right to own a gun in our country’s Founding Documents. It is written into the Source Code, the DNA if you will.

This doesn’t mean that laws can’t change, but wow, the power of having gun ownership in the Constitution is a strong foundation. Now how we got the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” to mean civilians owning as many military-grade weapons as they want, with little oversight–that is again a huge discussion about interpretation and application. For that I recommend Michael Waldman’s book, The Second Amendment, a Biography, which is on my personal reading list.

The source code can change

Conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote after last month’s Las Vegas massacre, “Repeal the Second Amendment.” Stephens argues that people who really want change should go to the heart of the matter:

In fact, the more closely one looks at what passes for “common sense” gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.

There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.

Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones. Gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn’t outlawed in Britain or Australia. But it doesn’t need a blanket Constitutional protection, either. The 46,445 murder victims killed by gunfire in the United States between 2012 and 2016 didn’t need to perish so that gun enthusiasts can go on fantasizing that “Red Dawn” is the fate that soon awaits us.

I don’t think that is a realistic strategy, but it does show us one more valid place to “look for our lost keys”–to shine a light on the Supreme Court, Congress, laws, enforcement–people and institutions with the power to make change. Fueled by grassroots activism that puts pressure on those in charge.

So don’t tell me a kindergartener should be carrying a bulletproof backpack. That is just a sign of our utter failure to find solutions to this deadly problem. It’s never too early to talk about adult leadership needed to reduce the senseless killings taking place in our nation.

Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is an author, educator, and child safety expert. She is the co-creator of and a Kidpower International Senior Leader. She is frequent guest expert on parenting websites, national radio tours, magazines from Redbook to Glamour, and TV including ABC News, the CBS Early Show, and NBC’s Today Show. The opinions expressed in this post are solely her own. To schedule an interview, call Spark Productions, 919-391-2337

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