The shock of the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school has faded, but the sadness of the tragedy still comes in waves, as parents buried their babies this week under the glare of a national media blitz.
Unlike past mass shootings, though, the outrage over the murder of 20 6- and 7-year-old and seven adults seems to have shifted the paradigm in the country’s approach to guns, which now number some 300 million. The tragedy also renewed calls on addressing how we treat mental illnesses.
Past school shooting resulted in significant changes in school security measures, ranging from volunteer background checks to instant visitor ID scans that tap into online criminal registries. All schools now require visitors to check in.
School superintendents thoughout the state reacted immediately to the shootings by instructing principals to review security measures. The Polk County Sheriff’s office placed deputies in front of county schools to help students and parents safer in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. Teachers and administrators in the county school system and Lake Wales’ charter system talked to students about the shooting en masse and individually, when needed.
A murder in Lake Wales Wednesday prompted school officials to lock down several schools while a suspect was being sought. We are blessed in Polk County to have school and law enforcement officials who act quickly and responsibly when such actions are called for.
We’re encouraged by renewed discussion of limiting certain types of weapons, such as semi-automatic assault rifles like the one used in Newtown, and high-capacity magazines that allow assailants to inflict mass casualties without needing to reload. We know there will be pushback from gun rights’ advocates for whom any limitations are deemed a restriction of their freedoms. We sense the nation is experiencing a rapid shift toward the view that the price of that dubious definition of freedom is too high.
Perhaps now, too, we will examine the impacts of a nationwide defunding of mental health care in the past decades, especially in Florida, which has essentially shifted the responsibility for treating the mentally ill to private non-profits and local jails. People who kill random victims are by definition mentally ill. The mother of the Newtown shooter reportedly struggled for years to get access to treatment for her deeply troubled son.
Identifying signs of mental illness and increasing affordable treatment options must be part of the policy changes enacted in the wake of this latest massacre.
The changes outlined above may not stop another Columbine, Blacksburg, Aurora or Newtown. But doing nothing is no longer an option.