Should we talk?
As if the nation was not riled up enough, what with wars, politics, and the Mueller investigation into possible Russian involvement in the 2016 election, a 19-year-old waltzed into a Florida high school with an AR-15.
Within minutes, 17 students and teachers were dead. Scores were wounded but survived. You don’t need me to describe the situation that followed. Within hours, no one was surprised that the students spoke out. After all, they had just witnessed the slaughter of their friends and teachers. Their eloquent comments supercharged the national conversation about firearms and schools.
Suddenly, elected national leaders were facing survivors and their parents demanding quick answers to highly complex and toxic questions. The ultimate goal is simple. We all agree that no child should face the horror faced by the children at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
What should we do? Now, it gets complicated and confusing.
Some of the survivors and others focus on the gun used to slaughter the children, and the heroic teachers who tried to shield them from harm. It is the AR-15, the civilian version of the weapon carried by American soldiers and Marines since 1967. Some advocate getting rid of the AR-15 and other military-style weapons. It is a simple solution. Right?
But what about the right “to keep and bear arms,” as stated in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Lots of folks, including many in rural states, like Maine, are big Second Amendment fans. They have been raised in homes where guns were common. Some of these rifles and shotguns provided food for the family.
Then there is the gun lobby - the NRA - which represents gun manufacturers and advocates. Its leadership has been more than vocal praising the Second Amendment and belittling those who think otherwise.
Some of the questions surrounding the Parkland slaughter focus on the failure of the convoluted system used to check the background of those seeking to purchase guns. Should the shooter, who has a history of questionable behavior, have been able to buy an AR-15?
Then there is the question of whether federal and local law enforcement acted properly.
What about mental health? Should the shooter’s actions prior to the incident have triggered some sort of response from social service agencies? What about the schools? Should we do something about them? The current occupant of the White House advocates arming teachers. If there was not enough confusion and controversy over the Parkland shooting, this suggestion has sent the conversation off in a whole different direction.
I don’t expect much movement from our national leaders. The issue of guns and the Second Amendment is just too toxic for them. Both Republicans and Democrats would rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than take a public position on a narrow Second Amendment question. After all, a politician's main job is to get elected. Taking a position on a toxic issue, especially one where the polling shows the nation is split on the question, is just too big a lift for most. No matter what they do, it could mean a ticket back home – for good.
Background checks are another national issue, as is the FBI’s response or lack of response to tips they received about the shooter.
What about our local leaders? What do they suggest? State Rep. Stephanie Hawke is a small business owner, a mother, a wife, a soon-to-be grandmother, and a member of the local school committee. First on her list is to make sure the schools are safe.
“If you go to the courthouse or the airport, you have to go through a metal detector. Maybe we should find a way to install them in our schools,” she said.
Currently, Larry Brown, a Boothbay Harbor policeman, spends a lot of time at the schools. Lincoln Academy has a full-time lawman on campus. Hawke says maybe it is time to have a full-time police officer in all schools.
Dana Dow is our state senator. He is a former high school science teacher and a small business owner. Over the years, he said times have changed and it is a good idea to have police assigned to the schools. “Some kids are just angry and lawmen are a big help to administrators and teachers in some situations,” he said.
As we watch the national conversation play out, is there something we can do on the local level to protect our school kids in Boothbay, Edgecomb, Southport, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, and Newcastle?
Do you think we can focus on what we can do, and leave the big, complex, national questions to the national leaders?
If a Parkland-like incident (God forbid) happened in our local schools, what should we do? And, dear friends, it could happen here.
Don’t you think it is time to talk?