The statistics are frightening; in the five years since the massacre at Sandy Hook there have been 239 school shootings, 438 children and staff shot, 138 murdered, and countless forever traumatized. It has become a ubiquitous preoccupation for many of us at Hillsides, so much so that we are constantly reviewing security at our school, campus, all our offices, and service sites. The concern is not because we serve many who suffer from mental illness but rather that there seems to be unfettered access to firearms intended for maximum destruction. These are not firearms used for personal defense or sport but the kind of arms that only law enforcement or our military should access in the defense of the innocent.
To blame mental illness as the cause for the recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida can only be interpreted as a failure to truly appreciate the complex nature of this horrific situation. Other societies deal with the needs of individuals who are mentally ill without the fear of children being slaughtered because access to firearms is controlled and we must do the same.
The parents of the children who were senselessly killed last week, together with the classmates of these students who were gunned down and the surviving educators and staff who lost their peers who heroically shielded their students, demand that something be done. Today students are at Florida’s state capitol to confront lawmakers and students across the state are staging school walkouts in protest. We can place metal detectors at the doors of every building; we can add to security personnel; we can develop crisis plans; we can even increase funding for the treatment of mental illness but unless we have the political courage to address the need to control access to assault style firearms, we can be assured the massacre of our children will continue unabated.
The question in light of such horror is not what we can do but rather what will we do to make the killing of our children stop. We cannot leave this to others and certainly not to our elected officials. We must be informed, speak out, insist on action that addresses the issue, and persist until we can send our children to school without fear that our goodbye at the school door might be the last time we see our children alive.
In the meantime, we must be do everything we can to avoid becoming paranoid of those who live with mental illness. They are not the enemy, and with care and support, are able to function well without harm either to themselves or others. Together with those who have raised their voices in the days since this horrific tragedy, let us honor the sacrifice of these innocent lives with a wholehearted commitment to addressing the issue of gun control.