This week, tragedy touched the sacred ground of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and we are left asking, "Why again?" and "Why now?" as families, a community, and a nation mourns. After Columbine, the former CBS News journalist Dan Rather surfaced a phrase that resonates even in this crisis. It was that that gun violence tragedies were an epidemic in schools in America.
For the last year, I've written often with the goal of safety in our nation's schools, and yet it is so tragic when the results of education are not able to curb, control, or prevent such devastating actions. As I said to loved ones when I joined this work, I will repeat again:
Now is the time for our nation to deal with its gun violence epidemic.
We cannot wait. This generation depends on us to take action.
Often, the idea of prevention is seen in a defensive context. Earlier this week, a school in California was heralded as the first to get gun-sensing technology. This would enable first responders of an active shooting event to have behind-the-scenes knowledge of where a tragedy was taking place in a school. But I would ask this question: Can technology prevent a hurting person from engaging in a tragic act?
I think the answer is obvious. Even as much as technology helps to see and potentially thwart crimes, the real prevention is done by us, one person at a time.
Prevention in terms of school violence takes place in classrooms, administrator's offices, locker rooms, playing fields, hallways, homes, dinner tables, over the phone, and even through social media. It is built on relationships and as valuable as these connections are -- they take a lot of perseverance to maintain. After all, we never know when that time comes for us to be a support to a person in need.
But what about the rest of society?
I listened to President Barack Obama's wise words after this tragedy and found a sense of calm. Again, he reminded us as a nation that this degree of tragedy occurs much more often in the United States than in any other advanced nation. Communities in the United States have indeed had to endure tragedies like this far too many times.
That said, there are a number of insights that President Obama shared which deserve further emphasis.
First, the President shared that the perpetrator of the immeasurably painful crime "had no trouble getting their hands on a gun."
None of my previous posts have been written on the topic of gun control, and that is not about to change. However, there is a much lighter sense of gun self-control that should actually be included in a national law. Imagine a country where every gun owner with children had to have their gun securely locked up in a way that a child could not "game the system" or "use the hidden key." This simple idea -- it is not taking away rights, but rather elevating the level of responsibility of citizens -- would prevent children from growing up and thinking that guns were always available. A healthy lesson that could help such a young person and others in a time of need.
Second, the President emphasized, "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries... It is in our power to do something about it."
Right now, I would ask every American how long will we reflect on those life-changing words...
"At some point."
I want you to know when that point was for me.
Eighteen months ago marked the day when a tragic event in a high school in the United States occurred. One student later died from her injuries, and on the day of the incident I could only ask this single question, "Why haven't educators across this nation created a national plan for prevention that is feasible and that works?"
Struck by the question, I began researching and writing. My heart broke when the courageous, innocent student passed away as a result of that tragedy. Ever since that time, however, I have been buoyed by her life. My book about the process of violence prevention in schools is dedicated to her memory.
And about society, the message is still the same. We need to cultivate the strengths that are in each of us -- and we need to dedicate ourselves towards more deeply helping others in our sphere of influence to find their strengths in life, too. That will be a healthy start on a pathway of prevention that we all must walk.
Third, President Obama reflected poetically on the potential dismay of our democratic process - this is when at our weakest points, it takes a lot of courage and perseverance to help a group of legislators make the right choices. The President said, "I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now, but it'd be wrong for us not to acknowledge them."
He is right, and the commitment towards deep, systemic change must begin with us. "At some point" actually must mean "now" for each one of us.
And yet what really deserves to be on the front pages of newspapers is not only all the hardship that America faces -- though by hardship we are strengthened. Instead, it is the tireless work of reformers across this land striving for a safer America.
As a nation, we are deeply grieved by those nine noble lives we lost this week, led by Senator Clementa Pinckney. May God provide rest for all from this tragedy and lead us to a safer tomorrow.
Dr. Jonathan Doll is a school safety advocate. He has a Kickstarter campaign going on during June/July 2015. Dr. Doll was the Keynote speaker at the conference, Building Resiliency in Lethal School Violence Prevention, at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut on May 21, 2015. He authored the book, "Ending School Shootings", which comes out in August 2015, www.EndingSchoolShootings.org.
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