As I dropped my 10 year-old off at school Monday morning, I hoped he couldn’t hear how hollow my words sounded to me when I said “Don’t worry. You go to a very safe school.” I imagine others had similar experiences.
My town, Needham, MA, is so much like Newtown, CT in so many ways: affluent New England suburb with close proximity to a major city; many of the working population commute to that nearby city; people move to the town because of the school system; gun owners and enthusiasts are welcome and abide by the laws. When I first wrote this post in December, I thought the one now-glaring difference between the towns was that Newtown is located in a state without a ban on assault weapons and Needham is located in a state with such a ban. Well, Massachusetts does have a ban on assault weapons. But what I have now learned is that there are many qualifiers in that ban, leaving room for residents to legally own certain assault weapons, including the gun used in Newtown.
Originally having felt fortunate to live under that ban, I now see with new clarity the need to strengthen our gun control laws at the state or town level to make an assault weapons ban truly a ban. I wonder if we, as a community, are doing all we can to protect our children while they are in school. Having made that statement to my child on Monday, I know for a fact that a gunman could force his way into any Needham school, public or private, and inflict great harm – with one of the approved assault weapons or any weapon designed to kill.
What if we came together as a community and enhanced our current school safety protocol to be the best it could be? What if other cities and towns could look to us as a blueprint when they try to do what they can on gun control and mental health on the Town/City and State levels? What if we filled the holes in our gun control laws at the Town level, rather than wait for the State to act? What if other states looked at Massachusetts and realized they could outlaw assault weapons at the State level and not have to wait for the NRA lobby to soften? What if we started a formal dialog or coalition with Public Safety, Public Health, Mental Health experts, School Administration, Youth Services, Town Government, Clergy, and private citizens to enhance our school safety protocol and to address mental health issues as they relate to gun control? The goal would not be to make a foolproof plan, but to make, implement and enforce a plan that gives our children the safest school environment we can create without sacrificing their quality of life.
Needham is a special place to live because of the intelligent and talented people who live here who are willing to give their time and talents to further an important cause. I know there are many more towns and cities like Needham. With our talent pool, we could make a difference locally, and perhaps more broadly – so that a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School never happens again, here or elsewhere.
I know the problem is not just about gun laws. I know it is complex and involves a long hard look at mental health issues. But I believe it is something that cannot wait to be addressed. Mental health issues have, for too long, not received the attention they deserve. And you may be surprised to discover how many households contain guns in your neighborhood. As an example, there are three household on my street of 30 houses that own guns – and those are just the ones I know about. There must be a way to ensure that those guns never fall into the wrong hands.
As gun stores in New Hampshire (less than 45 miles away from me) post record sales of assault weapons over the last 5 days, it is a sickening feeling to recognize that whatever can be done, can't be done fast enough.
If you live in Needham, watch for an email and a letter to the editor in our town paper from me in early January with a similar note, with a call to action. We have all had enough.
p.s. Please do not comment if your comment includes an unrelated link. I review all comments before they are posted and do not post ones containing unrelated links. Thank you!