Recently on my social media stream, a friend proposed the following thought exercise about gun control and time travel. After the Parkland tragedy that took 17 lives, including my daughter Alaina, I took some time to reflect on this. Here is what my friend proposed:
So 99% of the media coverage of the Parkland tragedy has focused on gun control. I’m not saying anything for or against gun control here, so please suspend for a moment your opinions on that, and answer honestly this simple hypothetical question:
If you theoretically had a child attending MSD, and could roll back the clock to a year before 2/14, in what order would you change the following options in order to keep your child safe?:
Have a law written somewhere saying no-one anywhere can own a semi-automatic gun.
Have the FBI actually follow up and act on reported risky, threatening behavior.
Have a school policy that allows authorities to actually report and act on aggressive, violent, or psychologically imbalanced behavior.
Have school security officers that will actually try to stop an active shooter vs. waiting outside during a rampage.
Have hardened schools that mitigate the effect a shooter could have.
I’m not sure of the exact order, but #1 is at the bottom of my list. (I don’t think a law on the books, while doing nothing about the other areas, would meaningfully increase the safety of my child nearly as much as the other 4)
So why is this receiving 1% of the coverage? In this specific incident, these deaths did not happen for lack of a gun law on the books. They happened because multiple people in positions of power and responsibility neglected, ignored, or abdicated their responsibilities to keep these children safe. Holding them accountable should be of the utmost priority.
It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating question, perhaps better phrased, “What wouldn’t I give to rewind the clock?” Let’s say it was possible to rewind the clock. Of the five choices, what would I change? What do I believe would have saved my daughter and 16 other beautiful souls? I responded with the following, slightly edited response:
“I can find no fault with your question and wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion: a law banning any specific firearm would have been, and remains today, at the bottom of my list. If 2,3,5 had been in place, 17 lives would have been saved, 17 others uninjured, with thousands of lives unchanged by the horror of February 14, 2018. If only 4 had been different, 6 on the 3rd floor might have lived.” (see Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders)
But here’s an honest attempt to answer your question on why gun control dominates the media.
A. Gun control is almost always positioned as a “silver bullet” solution, an easy way to fix a horrific & complex social problem. Its simplicity is deceptive and therefore alluring. No proof of efficacy is required, any demand for proof made of advocates is overshadowed by the obviously good intentions.
Being for it demands nothing more than to be against something.
There is very little effort demanded beyond advocacy.
It is a single-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem.
B. It’s easy to call for “common sense” gun control measures for specific types of firearms. Once you call for controls, you advocate for them by marching, protesting, harassing lawmakers & impugning the motives of anyone that disagrees with you. Marching, protesting, and harassing is passed off as indicators of authenticity. Common sense is promoted as consensus.
C. The media generally agrees with gun control as a political & policy objective. This means you will automatically get sympathetic, earned media. The disparity in media feeds the notion of consensus and a feeling of progress.
D. Closely related to C is that controversy drives media views & clicks. Because gun control is such a divisive issue, equal parts of the country will be cheering and throwing their shoes at their TVs. Either way, they are watching and clicking and this feeds the media’s appetite.
E. Closely related to D are the gun control measures generated by advocacy groups and promulgated by the media. These will never pass in any significant or meaningful form, so for the media, it’s an issue where they can lather rinse & repeat = $$$.
Responsible firearms ownership, on the other hand, is not only politically viable but far more effective in stopping the violence. Responsible firearms ownership’s only fault: It is not as interesting to the media nor to advocacy groups focused on agitating and controversy. For example, what we (as a community) did with Florida Senate Bill 7026 was an effort to keep firearms away from those that want to harm themselves or others, by creating a “red flag” law in Florida. Improving the background check system as we did with the FixNICS Act in the US Congress and recently signed into law by the President. Two very effective tools in the fight against violence, but not headline generators.
F. And it’s not just the media that benefit but the advocacy groups on both sides of the controversy that whip up angst and use it to drive membership & donations. Just look at what happened after Parkland. Fear drives fundraising–on both sides of the issue.
G. Progressive advocacy groups are really good at B. There were pro-gun control “boots on the ground” in Parkland on Feb 15, agitating, fomenting, organizing. Marches and protests garner media clicks/views. Views = $.
Why School Safety Should Be Our Focus
Rather than focusing on trying to control the media narrative, I will continue to focus on improving schools safety, by fixing 2,3,4,5 and more specifically through efforts to improve early identification and intervention. These may not garner the media attention that other policy prescriptions do, but I am convinced by the research and the evidence that early identification works. On that note: There is a strong correlation between suicidality and mass shooters; using suicidality as an early indicator will help us intervene and prevent future attacks.
The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas should show us that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss disturbing behavior, criminal activity, or threats against our schools. The lives of our children & teachers depend on it. We can’t rewind the clock, but we can learn the lessons of the past.
As many of you know, since the killing of our daughter Alaina at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland Florida on Valentines Day, Kelly and I have been searching, studying, & looking for solutions to eliminate the national scourge of school shootings. When it comes to solutions that are focused on school safety and proven to work, we are finding pieces of the puzzle all over the place. This past week we discovered a BIG piece of the puzzle, one that could fundamentally “change the game” for early identification and intervention. We were introduced to Dr. Kelly Posner (@posnerkelly) and the work she leads in the field of suicide prevention as Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University.
Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is a professor at Columbia whose work is saving lives in forty-five nations on six continents. The President of the American Psychiatric Association noted her work “could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of antibiotics…” The U.S. Department of Defense (Dr. Franklin’s quotes) called her work “nothing short of a miracle,” is central to their National Strategy, and stated, “her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide.” The CDC noted that her work is “changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the US and worldwide.” After being commissioned by the FDA to develop their scientific methods of suicide risk identification, the FDA has characterized her work as “setting a standard in the field.” Dr. Posner Gerstenhaber is about to receive The Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, the highest level of award a civilian can get for impacting the nation. Here is a recent interview (2/22/2018) with Dr. Posner on CNN:
Enter the Columbia Lighthouse Project
Let me share a bit of Dr. Posner’s work. The Columbian Lighthouse Project and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) is in use in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has seen a 22% reduction in suicide. It has helped to reduce the suicide rate by 65% over the first 20 months in the Tennessee programs of the nation’s largest provider of outpatient community behavioral health care, and reduced the suicide rate in Utah, the first decrease in suicide in almost a decade and helped to reverse an alarming, and previously increasing trend.
How Does the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) Work?
The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) supports suicide risk assessment through a series of simple, plain-language questions that anyone can ask. The answers help users identify whether someone is at risk for suicide, assess the severity and immediacy of that risk, and gauge the level of support that the person needs. Users of the C-SSRS tool ask people:
Whether and when they have thought about suicide (ideation)
What actions they have taken — and when — to prepare for suicide
Whether and when they attempted suicide or began a suicide attempt that was either interrupted by another person or stopped of their own volition
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with supporters and critics of an Obama-era directive on school discipline on Wednesday. Secretary DeVos is considering changes to the directive and possibly repealing the guidelines outlined therein.
That 2014 directive, issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, put school districts on notice that they could be found in violation of federal civil rights law if they create and enforce intentionally discriminatory rules. However, and perhaps more importantly, school districts could also be at risk of violating federal civil rights laws if their discipline policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students of different racial groups. This risk was present, even if their discipline policies were written without discriminatory intent.
At the heart of the debate of the discipline guidance is why those differing discipline rates occur and the role of the federal government in addressing them. Also at issue: whether schools’ efforts to limit “exclusionary discipline,” such as expulsions and suspensions, have helped students feel more supported or have too severely limited teacher discretion in disciplining students.
In what I view as further support for state and Federal “Red Flag” legislation allowing law enforcement to seek an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” sometimes referred to as a “Gun Violence Restraining Order”, a report released today from the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), part of the United States Secret Service, sheds new light on mass attacks carried out in public places. The NTAC studied 28 incidents that were carried out at 31 sites in 2017 (see map).
Highlights from the report include:
Over three-quarters (79%) made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks. On average, those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not.
Nearly half were motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic, or other issue[s].
Over half had histories of criminal charges, mental health symptoms, and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
Nearly two-thirds of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms prior to their attacks. The most common symptoms observed were related to psychosis (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions) and suicidal thoughts.
All had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and over half had indications of financial instability in that timeframe.
The key findings from the report, “support existing best practices that the U.S. Secret Service has established in the field of threat assessment. They highlight the importance of gathering information on a person’s background, behaviors, and situational factors; corroborating the information from multiple sources; assessing the risk the individual poses for violence; and identifying intervention points to mitigate that risk. I’ve been discussing these intervention points with members of the NTAC to better understand what we can do to protect our children from threats at school. (more…)
Today is the day. March 24th, 2018. March For Our Lives is happening in over 800 cities around the globe. Not coincidentally, I was a guest on Cavuto Live on FNC because I have suggested that there is another path to keeping our kids & teachers safe at school. The path that I believe most effective is to Fwe must take steps to secure our schools. Second, we must keep firearms out of the hands of those that would do themselves or other harm. There is common ground here.
In the days immediately following the murders of 17 innocent children and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), a very familiar narrative began to emerge. It started, as it always does, with fervent questions. Why did this happen? Why did this happen in Parkland? Why at Marjory Stoneman Douglas? Why is this happening again? Why? Why? Why? We must do something, became a unifying cry. But the unanswered question was, do what?
Before the families had begun to mourn, a litany of national gun control factions descended on Parkland. Organizing. Agitating. Inculcating. With a well-worn refrain of gun control demands, they found willing recruits still reeling from the shock of the savagery. The TV media had already arrived in Parkland; together they would prove to be a potent union. Live feeds. Town halls. Justifiable anger.
But in my view, it was and is the wrong prescription. As a nation, we’ve been down this path before. Many times. Too many times. This time must be different.
Three major legislative victories in the past five weeks, tell me that we are on the right path. We have found common ground and we have ideas that will help to prevent another tragedy like Valentine’s day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
On March 20, Governor Rick Scott appointed me to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. I am honored to be appointed and pleased to accept. I look forward to serving the citizens of the state of Florida, and especially our children and teachers. I will work tirelessly to ensure that we learn the lessons from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Valentines Day. We can make our schools much safer and avoid the mistakes of the past.
Governor Scott Names Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Chairman
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced appointments to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Governor Scott also named Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Chairman. The Commission was established by SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law by Governor Scott.
Governor Scott said, “I’m proud to appoint five dedicated Floridians to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission including fathers of two of the victims who were critical in helping a bill get passed quickly. Since the shooting in Parkland, our number one focus has been to make our schools safer while doing everything possible to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. I’m confident that these appointees will continue the work that has already started in our state to keep our students safe.”
Senate President Joe Negron said, “The Senate appointees include a former classroom teacher and nationally-recognized child advocate, a school board member, a law enforcement officer, a retired school resource officer, and a renowned mental health treatment clinician. This diverse cross-section of professional experience and subject matter expertise, will serve the state well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission embarks on the critically important task before it. We can never replace the 17 lives lost, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack. However, this Commission will help ensure we do everything we can to reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this ever happening again.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran said, “I’m honored to appoint five members to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The work and recommendations of this commission will, I believe, serve as a model for the nation in addressing school safety and protecting individual liberty. The appointees to the commission bring decades of experience in law enforcement, prosecution, and training civilians to handle firearms and protect a school. Most importantly, an appointee, Max Schachter, brings the tragic experience of being a father who lost his son in that day’s awful events and who is driven to ensure it never happens to another family ever again. I thank those willing to participate, I commend the courage of the family members who will take on this task, and pray that all the efforts of this commission will meet with success.”
Yesterday I had an opportunity to talk about #WalkUp on national TV. I was invited to be on the Michaela Pereira show on @HLNTV. The idea behind #WalkUp is not mine. In fact, I saw it on a Facebook post from a friend of a friend. Here is what inspired me:
Instead of walking out of school on March 14, encourage students to walk up — walk up to the kids who sits alone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group; walk up to the kids who sits quietly in the corner of the room and site next to her, smile and say Hi; walk up to the kid who causes disturbances in class and ask how he is doing; walk up to your teachers and thank them; walk up to someone who has different view that you and get to know them – you may be surprised at how much you have in common. Build own that foundation instead of casting stone. I challenge students to find 14 students and 3 adults to walk up to and say something nice in honor of those who died in (Parkland) FL on the 14th of February. But you can start practicing now! #walkupnotout
The controversy that led to my invitation to be on HLN started when I posted this on Twitter:
It seems almost unbelievable to me that we as a society would debate the importance of being kind. Unfortunately, the #WalkUp movement is often misunderstood and mischaracterized, sometimes purposely so. I’ve seen several attempts to label #WalkUp as “victim blaming” or misrepresenting the impact that being kind can have on a disaffected and potentially violent youth. Do I believe that the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas could have been stopped if the students had been more kind to him? Of course not. In meetings last week with the Director of the Secret Service and the head of the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), apart of the Secret Service, I learned that there is a path along which disaffected & troubled youth travel called a “Continuum of Violence”. A few of the key findings & implications are:
Students who engaged in school-based attacks typically did not “just snap” and then engage in impulsive or random acts of targeted school violence. Instead, the attacks examined under the Safe School Initiative appeared to be the end result of a comprehensible process of thinking and behavior: behavior that typically began with an idea, progressed to the development of a plan, moved on to securing the means to carry out the plan and culminated in an attack.
An important element in preventing these attacks is information that can be provided by students. These are often key pieces of a puzzle when pieced together can aid school officials and law enforcement in stopping the attack.
First and foremost, this finding suggests that students can be an important part of prevention efforts. A friend or schoolmate may be the first person to hear that a student is thinking about or planning to harm someone. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, those who have information about a potential incident of targeted school violence may not alert an adult on their own. Schools can encourage students to report this information in part by identifying and breaking down barriers in the school environment that inadvertently may discourage students from coming forward with this information. Schools also may benefit from ensuring that they have a fair, thoughtful and effective system to respond to whatever information students do bring forward. If students have concerns about how adults will react to information that they bring forward, they may be even less inclined to volunteer such information.
By fostering an atmosphere of kindness as embodied in the #WalkUp movement, imagine the impact a student may have after having befriended a troubled classmate and felt if that student felt comfortable sharing that information with an adult. It is not the responsibility of the student to intervene, just to share information, their piece of the puzzle, a piece that could ultimately stop an act of violence before it starts.
Several key findings point to the fact that kids send signals–both directly and indirectly–to others regarding their problems. The boys who engaged in the targeted school violence examined by the Safe School Initiative were not “invisible” students. In fact nearly all of these students engaged in behaviors–prior to their attacks–that caused concern to at least one person, usually an adult, and most concerned at least three people.
This finding highlights the range of behaviors in a student’s life that may be noticeable and that could prompt some additional probing by a caring adult. A student’s family, teachers, friends and others may have information regarding aspects of a student’s behavior that has raised concern.
So, #WalkUp can help change the school culture and create an environment of trust and safety as well enabling the sharing of vital information that could help protect students and teachers at school. If the #WalkUp effort is done early enough on that continuum, a life can be changed in a positive way forever. I’d say it’s worth more than a try.
Our daughter Alaina Petty attended Wilder Elementary when we live in the Seattle area. Mrs. Tavener, one of Alaina’s teachers at Wilder Elementary, heard about our call for kindness in the wake of Alaina’s death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As a family, we believe that creating a culture of kindness and inclusion in our schools is vital in stopping the threat of school violence and keeping our children & teachers safe. This is what Mrs. Tavener had to say about the Day of Kindness.
“A Day of Kindness” was enjoyed at Wilder Elementary, School on Wednesday, March 14th. This school-wide theme was chosen to promote compassion and enhance a sense of belonging for all our students and community. Everyone at school was encouraged to wear blue to represent kindness and show unity. Teachers and other school staff were outside that morning greeting students as they arrived via car drop-off and from the busses. The extra smiles, waves, and hugs went a long way to establish a positive start to our day. Here are a few other examples of activities that focused on kindness.
A school-wide read-aloud was enjoyed by each class. The school principals, counselor, and office staff went into each classroom as a guest reader of the book, Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed. This wonderful picture book illustrates how a small act of kindness leads to more and more acts of kindness. A special video was also created featuring students from all grade levels speaking their own ideas and examples of kindness.
A patchwork art project was started by a second-grade class where students drew and wrote about examples of kindness. Together their paper squares created a beautiful kindness quilt display in the hallway. This project was inspired by the book, The Kindness Quilt. The book was then passed along to other classes who were invited to add to the kindness quilt in the hallway. Our display keeps growing just like kindness does.
First graders started a Tree of Kindness by writing acts of kindness on green paper leaves and hearts. These are hung on a giant paper tree in the school hallway. Leaves are being added as more students notice or think of new acts of kindness. What a wonderful visual to illustrate the idea that kindness grows and spreads!
Anna Tavener 2nd Grade Teacher
Wilder Elementary School
UPDATED 23-Mar-2018: All families have now had an opportunity to sign the letter. See updated link below.
Once again, the families of the victims of the senseless violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School unite in support of legislation to improve school safety and ensure this time will be different! #STOP School Violence Act
March 16, 2018
The Honorable Senator Mitch McConnell
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
The Honorable Senator Chuck Schumer
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
The Honorable Representative Paul Ryan
H-232, The US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Representative Nancy Pelosi
H-204, The US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Senators McConnell & Schumer, Representatives Ryan & Pelosi,
We are the families of the victims killed in the tragedy in Parkland, FL on February 14, 2018. We strongly urge you to support the inclusion of the STOP School Violence Act and the Fix NICS ACT in the upcoming Omnibus spending bill to be debated and ultimately voted on in both chambers.
At the Federal level the STOP School Violence Act is a first step in a long journey to improve the safety of our children and teachers at school. This Act will make schools safer by funding the creation of and providing training for Threat Assessment Teams (TATs), teachers and students. It also includes security measures and provides for the creation of anonymous reporting systems. All of which will help make schools safer.
The Fix NICS Act is desperately needed to improve compliance with firearms purchasing background check systems which are already in place. These are systems that all US citizens rely on to keep firearms away from those that should not be allowed to purchase them.
Frankly, much more needs to be done to prevent mass murder from ever again occurring at any school. This issue cannot wait. The moment to consider these key pieces of legislation is now.
We must be the last families to suffer the loss of a loved one due to a mass shooting at a school. We demand more action to keep our schools safe.
This Time Must Be Different!
Lori Alhadeff, Max Schachter, Ryan & Kelly Petty, Linda Beigel Schulman, Fred Guttenberg, Damian and Denise Loughran, Manuel and Patricia Oliver, Mitch Dworet, Jennifer and Tony Montalto, Kong Feng Wang and Peter Wang, Andrew Pollack, Tom and Geena Hoyer, Vincent and Anne Ramsay, Miguel Duque, Debbi Hixon, April Schentrup, and Melissa Feis
I will read a short statement from the families, and then I will begin my personal statement.
We, the families of the amazing children and teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, would like to recognize the first responders who were witnesses that day to an unspeakable evil. Many acted heroically, putting themselves in harm’s way, and saved many lives that day. Thank you.
To the caring & gracious people of the cities of Parkland & Coral Springs, the citizens of our home state of Florida and those across America who have shown support for us in our time of sorrow and loss, we can only say, thank you. Please know that your kindness and support is deeply appreciated, and has made a lasting impact on our lives.
As families, we came from different backgrounds, and we hold a variety of viewpoints; yet we united around this simple idea: our children and teachers should be safe at school. We rallied to the battle cry: This time must be different!
We implored our state leaders, and specifically the Florida Legislature, to take action.
We came together to build on common ground, and we made history in Florida by passing legislation to achieve the first step in just three weeks. It was a good start, but it is not enough – there is much more to be done.
Now my personal statement.
In a season of loss, it is difficult to find meaning in tragedy. The senseless murder of so many — including my own beloved daughter Alaina — tests the limits of faith, and demands more endurance than we thought possible. It is a test abruptly forced on us, and we bear it as best we can.
Each of us — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives of those lost and loved — strive to find that meaning. I believe we will be seeking it to the end of our days. However, our abiding faith tells us that our Father in Heaven has a plan. Although the loss of our daughter Alaina, was to us unforeseen, it was not a surprise to Him. This gives us comfort during this difficult time.
Our knowledge that at the end, when we each return to see our God, as we most surely will, He will grant us a full understanding — that when we see His face, we will, at long last, see the faces of our loved ones, taken from us too soon.
We will not know what all this means until that time.
But we know what this thing that has happened does not mean: It does not mean evil will triumph. It does not mean we may do nothing. It does not mean we should turn against one another.
We must not struggle over ashes in the shadow of our grief.
Why does the school board continue to say 17 students were killed Feb. 14? There were 14 students and 3 adults, employees of the school board! Do they think if they fail to acknowledge them they didn't die? It is so disrespectful!