Cartier: Guns, mental health and our kids: Arming teachers worth consideration (column)
February 25, 2018
No child should face the terror that was experienced in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day. The heartfelt speeches, delivered only days after the massacre, brought tears to the eyes of our nation. And while they were professionally written, leaving some to suspect political involvement, there is no question that the sentiment was genuine.
The demand for action is felt across the country, yet the issue is so complex that there is no simple fix. Each area has multiple issues associated with change and can generate serious Constitutional challenges.
Second Amendment rights are sacred in this country and have been around for generations without a wave of school shootings, so what has changed? We can blame the guns, but they don't shoot themselves, so we focus on access, remembering that laws only work with "law abiding" citizens who are not the threat. Criminals ignore gun laws because they do little to limit their black-market access, and additional legal restrictions reduce the risk of return fire.
There is discussion about limiting the sale of automatic rifles because the "mass" numbers are exponentially greater than with a handgun, but when people are being hunted by criminals who have that capacity, shouldn't they be able to protect themselves equally? There is also controversy over raising the purchasing age limit to 21, as we limit alcohol access to that age.
Does the increase of graphic violence in media, games, news and film cause desensitivity to torture or murderous acts? Yet, other countries experience equal exposure without mass school shootings. Of course, it could be that the deterrent in other nations is a bullet to the head by law enforcement, who are not as concerned about criminal due process when the evidence is irrefutable. Which brings us to arming schools.
As we debate school safety, we must acknowledge that we offer armed protection to many public figures. It is because of their extensive exposure and vulnerability to harm from strangers who may take their fantasies, whether based in anger or demented passion, to a fatal level. Who ever thought that our neighborhood children would experience the same threat? As such, don't they deserve the same protection?
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Arming teachers is certainly controversial for obvious reasons, but can't we develop a plan of action that will meet the threat with equal force until law enforcement arrives?
Consider the Sidney City School District, near Dayton, Ohio, where selected teachers, administrators and maintenance staff have access to loaded handguns and bulletproof vests. The weapons are locked away in biometric safes, hidden from students and potential attackers. It can only be unlocked by an official's fingerprint. Those who have access to weapons must pass background checks, attend a 20-hour course with the Sheriff's Office, meet annual qualifications at the firing range and attend mandatory training sessions throughout the year. This approach is certainly worth consideration, particularly if the people selected have additional experience in law enforcement or the military.
This leads us to the most sensitive issue in the debate: mental health. In Eagle County, that debate focused on eliminating the stigma associated with seeking mental health assistance. An additional tax on marijuana sales was passed to provide facilities and programs for those in need. Proponents wanted others to understand that mental health issues were no different from someone with other health considerations, such as diabetes or a heart condition.
However, we all know that to be wishful thinking because whenever there is a mass shooting, mental health is nearly always considered the culprit, not their cardio condition.
Involuntary commitment "psychiatric holds" are utilized in Florida with The Baker Act and in California with the 5150 law. However, we must evaluate how we remove a person's Constitutional rights without due process. To essentially incarcerate someone in a mental hospital based upon the interpretation by a counselor or psychologist of someone's potential to harm themselves and, by extension, be a threat to others, without due process is against everything we stand for.
Do we really want a Minority Report state? Thoughts are not deeds. Yet, aren't we allowed to protect ourselves from potential threats? Where do we draw the line? Can background checks of young people include sealed juvenile records? They are there for a reason.
Do we now remove those protections that are in place to protect against the immature actions of childhood? Is a 12-year-old who exhibited a violent reaction to an event that he did not fully comprehend now considered a dangerous individual forever? What about the non-judicial chat a teen has with a counselor about depression over a romantic breakup, as they feel their life is over? Are they branded for life as a threat to themselves and others? There are reasons for these protections to remain.
What about adults seeking help with mental health issues? Will they be reported as dangers to society because of their psychological states, which may be temporary? Will those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia be automatically placed on a government list, declaring them a threat? How will this impact the likelihood of those needing mental health treatment to seek it?
Solutions driven by emotion are rarely effective, particularly with highly complex issues, yet we must never give up trying … our children are depending on it.
Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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