The devastating events of last Friday in Newtown, Conn. provide us with a reason to hug our children more tightly, thank a neighbor for a kindness and tell a family member how much we love them. This week's tragedy is no less shocking in the wake of other mass murders -- those on a college campus at Virginia Tech, a high school in Columbine, a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. In each case, we have questioned the mental stability of the assailant and his access to the most fearsome of weapons.
Conversations have started and stopped, but now it is time to take action.
My wife, Eileen, and I are lifelong educators. Together we have worked in a variety of academic settings, ranging from pre-schools to university campuses. Three years ago we relocated from Milford, Conn., a picturesque community on the Long Island Sound just 20 miles from Newtown. We now live in Fond du Lac, Wisc., a rural lakefront community 40 miles from suburban Milwaukee. The shooting at the Sikh Temple outside Milwaukee became personal as the officer who was wounded, Brian Murphy, was a native New Yorker like us and currently a student at Marian University, where I serve as president. The Connecticut incident also affected us personally as we know several families whose children and grandchildren escaped the gunfire, only to be left with emotional scars that will last forever.
In the aftermath of September 11 back in New York, we became accustomed to police officers in combat gear on the railroads and more with guard dogs in Grand Central Terminal; they sniffed our briefcases as we made our way to work. For all of us, it's now regular practice to remove our shoes and partially disrobe each time we board an airplane. Applications for passports are delayed because federal background checks must be completed prior to being granted access to re-enter the country.
As we travel back to Connecticut this holiday season with our children, we will do so with heavy hearts. When we pass through the full body scanners at the airport, we will be comforted knowing that we have entered a safe environment. So many schools, however, those that hold our most precious commodity -- our children -- remain under the protection of a simple buzzer, often the sole alert system and a meager deterrent to unwanted visitors.
The conversation regarding whether weapons should be accessible to the public should and will focus on the type of guns we allow. It is questionable that any rational person would believe that semi-automatic assault weapons are necessary. There is no doubt in my mind that we must focus on the process by which these guns end up in the hands of individuals who should not have access to them. More stringent background checks are needed to ensure the safety of our communities.
We have given up certain rights in order to travel safely. We must now give up some rights to remain a civil society.
And security on school campuses must be more stringent.
Educational institutions invite the public to attend events daily and weekly, from keynote speeches to school plays. We are not frisked when we enter a lecture hall, nor do we pass through metal detectors for most commencement ceremonies. However, if we are to create safe spaces to learn in an environment free of violence, we must provide adequate security and identify those exhibiting odd behavior. We must do our collective part to make sure another act of domestic terrorism does not happen again.
It takes a village to raise children but, sadly and tragically, it takes only one irrational human being to murder them.