To Keep Them Safe

by Jerry Dempsey

It is our fundamental task as a human race to support and keep our children safe.  As parents, teachers, leaders, or citizens, we all bear the burden to protect the young and create a world which tries to save them from pain, loss, and especially, death.  Random accidents or acts of violence make this a daunting and, sometimes, impossible task.  However, for the very young, we have created primary or elementary schools.  We hope that these schools are joyful, encouraging, and protected environments.  All my years of educational experience have persuaded me that on the whole we have done an exemplary job in meeting this responsibility.  How shattering then is the reality experienced on December 14?

I, like many of you, can recall the feelings we experienced on other violent days when innocent people were killed.  This day feels worse than all those others.  These feelings should not be ranked or compared, but the innocent young in such a protected and productive place should not have been lost.  I cannot yet make sense of my own feelings or offer a remedy that will prevent the next occurrence, but I believe we should reflect on the event long and hard.  It can and must lead us to do better.

There is no one thing we can do that will offer complete assurance that such a horrible day will not be repeated.  We can continue to improve security in all of our public places without destroying the atmosphere and climate we should preserve.  Security was a high priority at Sandy Hook and may well have saved additional lives.  Nonetheless, this event calls for us to do more.  Limiting gun availability, especially assault weapons, must be done.  This is necessary but not sufficient.  Guns by themselves do not cause evil acts such as this but they need to be curtailed or access severely reduced.  

We know that schools are places that need to focus on character, on healthy social and emotional growth, and they should collaborate with all other significant institutions of our society to identify those troubled and wounded individuals who most need our help.  Greed and anger often breed violence but so does alienation and deep personal suffering.  Fear and isolation also produces a foolish trust in weapons as a source of safety and protection.  We need to identify and provide support and control to those who could potentially act out in violent ways.  No one expects this to be easy but we can do better than we have so far.

It is too early to choose all the appropriate actions which may improve safety.  Now is the time to shed tears, offer condolences, and memorialize the fallen.  Any innocent person who is struck down does not deserve it.  Children of six or seven years of age deserve protection from loss and death and we all must reflect on the sadness of this event before deciding next steps.  Our dialogue should include the best knowledge offered by mental health professionals and the wisdom that will come from many, both young and old.  Schools are expected to be caring institutions and they are, but let this sad event be the cause of new connections with religious groups, civic leaders, and willing volunteers throughout the land.  We probably need to remember our current feelings longer than we have in the past or we will soon experience many other days like last Friday.

Gerard Dempsey

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