A mother in our community that I respect and with whom I share many values and opinions, told me this week that she would feel safer if we had a police officer with a gun protecting every school. This is a sentiment I have heard more than once in recent days from parents in our community. My response is, “And then what?”
What will we do when a deranged young man wearing full body armor forces his way into a school, guns blazing, and the first person he kills is the police officer who was wearing much less protective gear and carrying only a handgun? Will we then outfit school police officers with full body armor and fully automatic machine guns?
What will we do when a killer enters a school building through a door far from the police officer’s post and murders dozens of children and teachers before the officer is able to run to the scene? Will we hire a cadre of officers to guard every doorway? Every classroom? Will we arm teachers with automatic weapons?
What will we do when a mentally ill person attacks a playground or a festival attended by thousands of people? Will we line every street with SWAT teams?
Is that when we will feel safe?
If Ossining decides to hire a police officer to patrol every school, how will we pay the officer’s salary? How large will our class sizes grow as we cut teachers in order to pay for more police officers?
I do not know how to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening in Ossining or anywhere. I do know that by the time a mentally unbalanced, misguided young man covers himself in body armor and enters a school, there may have been many missed opportunities to recognize his mental illness and get help—for his sake and his community’s. I do know that our nation has more guns, and more gun deaths, than any other nation in the history of the world. More guns are not making us more safe.
I do know there are things I can do to help support and strengthen Ossining right now. This is the time of year when many households make donations to nonprofit organizations that support their values. Though our family’s modest contributions will be a drop in the bucket, we believe each dollar is a vote. And I’m voting for an Ossining with strong families, strong schools, strong programs to get kids playing away from computer screens, strong resources for helping those in need, strong resources for first responders.
Some of the organizations our family will be supporting this year are listed below. What organizations would you add?
Ossining Children’s Center
The Friends of the Ossining Public Library
Ossining Communities that Care
IFCA Housing Network
Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund
The Open Door Foundation
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Ossining Volunteer Ambulance Corps
Village of Ossining Fire Department
This is an emotionally raw time, and it can be difficult to listen to people who don’t appear to share our beliefs. There are no easy answers. Perhaps there are no answers at all. No one person can change laws about guns. No one person can provide funding for mental health programs in every community. No one person can change our culture of violence and screen-focused isolation. But each one of us can help change the life of one child, one family, one classroom, one sports team, one Ossining.
At the vigil that Kim Jeffrey organized on Sunday honoring the Sandy Hook Elementary School families, I read this quote from Mister Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.
I am grateful my sons are growing up in this community that is so rich with helpers.