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A Letter to my State Legislators on Gun Control in New Hampshire

February 20, 2018 Comments off

Herewith is a letter I wrote to our local legislators in New Hampshire, all of whom, I believe, would be on board with any legislation that called for greater gun control in our state. I urge you to write a similar letter unless you are fortunate enough to live in a state like NY or CT where there is some modicum of sanity in their efforts to control who owns guns and where and how they can be used. Here’s my letter:

I submitted a lengthy op ed piece to the Valley News that may or may not get published… but I wanted to share a couple of paragraphs with you since they include some ideas on what the NH legislature might do. Here they are:

In New Hampshire we could start restoring sanity to our gun legislation by passing a law that allows local school boards to enact policies that restrict weapons in schools. As reported in several Valley News articles, our State’s AG Office has ruled that only the legislature, not school districts, can enact firearms bans, except for students and staff. If the legislature is unwilling to enforce the federal laws regarding weapons free schools, they should at least give locally elected school boards the authority to ban weapons. If local control is the hallmark of New Hampshire government, giving local boards this authority makes perfect sense. Secondly, the New Hampshire legislature could repeal the bill Governor Chris Sununu signed into law a year ago that did away with the requirement that gun owners have a permit to carry a concealed handgun and gave local police chiefs the ability to deny such a permit. Finally, the legislature might look to the bills passed in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook shootings there. As a result of their legislation the number of gun deaths dropped in that state, an outcome I hope most legislators would seek.

I am tired of living in a world where my grandchildren have to live in fear when they go to school because we want to make certain anyone can buy any kind of weapon and carry it with them at any time and any place. I’m tired of living in a world where schools are expected to spend millions of dollars on surveillance equipment and armed guards so that any citizen can buy a gun designed to kill humans. I’m tired of living in a world where profiling troubled teenagers and adults on social media is seen as a better solution to shootings than developing any kind of background checks on gun purchasers. And most of all, I’m tired of living a world where the legislators encourage citizens to arm themselves for their own protection. Instead of supporting the “every-person-for-themselves” worldview of the NRA, I hope that in the future our legislators will promote a collaborative worldview: a world where local school boards, selectboards, police forces, and social service agencies are encouraged to team up to help troubled youth and adults connect with their community… a world where hope replaces fear.

I trust you are as appalled as I am that the gun restriction policies in place in our local schools are now “illegal” and also appealed to think that our local police cannot stop anyone from getting or renewing a concealed carry permit. If you introduce bills that remedy either of those issues I would be glad to testify on your behalf in support of its passage. Please take some action to restore sanity to gun ownership in our state. 

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More Good Guys With Guns? More Surveillance? More Lockdown Drills? NO! None of the Above!

February 20, 2018 Comments off

Education Week featured an article by Bryan Warnick, professor of education at The Ohio State University, Benjamin A. Johnson, assistant professor at Utah Valley University, and Sam Rocha is an assistant professor of education at the University of British Columbia, that offered a rebuttal against those politicians and gun advocates who reflexively call for more security whenever a school shooting occurs. Using evidence to support their arguments against more good guys with guns, more surveillance cameras, and more drills, they also offered a powerful argument why such  “target-hardening” approaches to school shootings make matters worse:

Filling schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, police officers, and gun-wielding teachers tells students that schools are scary, dangerous, and violent places—places where violence is expected to occur.

The “target hardening” approach also has the potential to change how teachers, students, and administrators see one another. How teachers understand the children and youth they teach has important educational consequences. Are students budding citizens or future workers? Are they plants to nourish or clay to mold?

Instead of inculcating fear into students, the three writers propose that we look at how our schools function and how effectively we engage students in academics and the life of the school. Instead of examining checklists on door locks and performing drills led by experts on school security, the authors suggest examining the ways schools isolate some students:

To what extent does the school—through things like athletics, homecoming royalties, or dances and so forth—encourage what some political scientists have called the “status tournament of adolescence” that lurks behind the stories of many school shootings?

As one reads about such shootings, one often senses a feeling of social anxiety and betrayal on the part of perpetrator. Americans hold high expectations for schools as places of friendship and romance, yet too often students find alienation, humiliation, and isolation. The frustration at these thwarted expectations at least sometimes seems to turn toward the school itself.

And the authors also believe schools should examine how they impose discipline and order and how that might affect the thinking of impressionable adolescents:

To what extent does the force and coercion employed by many schools contribute to a “might makes right” mentality and associated violence?

It is true that bullying is often a part of some of the stories of school shooters. Students who are bullied or who are bullies themselves will quite naturally think of schools as places appropriate for violence. There is also sometimes a rage, however, against the day-to-day imposition of school discipline and punishment. Since schools are experienced as places of force and control, for some students, they also come to be seen as appropriate places for violence.

To their credit, the writers do not offer glib solutions that will work for each and every school. Rather, they ask that schools engage in deep reflection… and ask that the public join with them in their introspection:

Our suggestion is simply that, instead of trying to find solutions to school shootings in the dubious arms of security technologies, or even solely through more promising public policy, society should ask deeper questions about the nature of education and schooling in American society.

It is time to think about school shootings not as a problem of security, but also as a problem of education.

After reading article after article calling for quick and easy and highly visible “solutions”, it was refreshing to read an analysis that called for schools to take a deep breath and engage in thoughtful reflection. I would encourage every school to look at the students they serve and see what steps they might take to ensure that every child attending is making the most of every minute they are attending… identifying the obstacles that the child faces… and advocate for a means of having those obstacles removed. In doing so, I doubt that any school will conclude that more surveillance cameras, more good guys with guns, and more lockdown drills are necessary.

A Connecticut Neo-Liberal in the Koch Brothers’ Court: A Cautionary Tale for 2020

February 19, 2018 Comments off

Whenever I read about “Centrist Democrats” who might be plausible candidates to oppose Donald Trump I get a chill because many of them, like “Centrist” Governor Daniel Malloy of Connecticut, are often willing to adopt the positions of the Koch Brothers if it suits their “reform” agenda. Yesterday’s post by Diane Ravitch describing Governor Malloy’s advocacy for the expansion of 529 plans is a case in point. Quoting at length from a retired Connecticut school teacher who is calling out the Governor in her state, Ms. Ravitch offers a detailed explanation of how the expansion of “Education Savings Accounts” will draw funds from the public school coffers and redirect them into the coffers of private sectarian and private for profit schools.

As I noted in a comment I left at the conclusion of the post:

The ALEC playbook is not read only by libertarians… the neoliberal “reformers” like Malloy, Cuomo, Booker, HRC, and– yes, Obama— all like any gambits that undercut unions and empower privatizers… in 2020 those of us who want to take public education in a different direction need to avoid supporting ANY Democrat, particularly those who are good public speakers strike a seemingly sane alternative to our current Prevaricator…

I haven’t witnessed anyone emerging from the pack who will stand up for public schools or the need for us to expand government regulations. Instead Democrats seem content to run on the “Not Trump” platform and hope that they can retain the support of the billionaires who favor deregulation and privatization while activating their base voters who loathe the divisiveness of our current leadership. We need more than an anti-Trump if we hope to restore faith in government and democracy. We need someone who will give full throated support for the rule of law, for re-regulating Wall Street and the environment, and for restoring the social justice that has unravelled. Anyone who supports the expansion of 529 plans should not receive the support of any thoughtful progressive.

More Evidence of GOP and Trump Administration Hypocrisy… As If More Were Needed

February 18, 2018 Comments off

President Trump’s thoughts and prayers may well be with the grieving families in Florida, but his budget proposal speaks louder than his words. As reported in ThinkProgress, the Trump/DeVos budget proposal cuts school safety funding by 25% and completely eliminates a program that would have provided counseling support for the families and students at the Florida High School where 17 were killed on Valentines Day.

To compound matters, Mr. Trump joined Florida Governor Scott in criticizing the FBI for it’s mishandling of tips it got on the potential for the shooter to engage in the carnage at the high school. As he always does in these circumstances, Mr. Trump focused on the mental health issues… conveniently overlooking the fact that he signed a measure that made it possible for someone with mental health issues— like the shooter— to acquire a high powered gun. I am waiting for someone in the media to ask both Mr. Scott and Mr. Trump what they thought the FBI would have been able to do. Would they have been empowered to seize the shooter’s weapons? Would they have been empowered to place him in a mental health facility? Those who question the FBI’s failure to intervene should be prepared to explain exactly how the FBI might have done so.

As for those politicians who want to “address the mental health issue”, I await a substantive proposal on how this might be done without raising additional funding. If “throwing money at the problem” won’t help, I wonder what will… and building more prisons and encouraging schools to hire more guards or put in more surveillance cameras is “throwing money at the problem” as surely as hiring more counselors is.

And for those who claim “this is not the time to talk about this issue”, someone needs to ask them when the right time is to talk about it… and schedule a meeting on that day. We can’t keep on indefinitely postponing this uncomfortable conversation. The lives of innocent children depends on us resolving this issue.

Kansas Legislators’ Resentment for Public Schools Grossly Inappropriate

February 17, 2018 Comments off

An article by AP reporter John Hannah appeared in the Virginian-Pilot with this headline: “Kansas Public Schools Face Backlash on Endless Money Crisis”. The article describes the resentment Kansas legislators feel toward public schools for their insistence that they get the lions share of funding, which is forcing them to abandon their “pro-business” low taxation stance in order to fund things like schools, prisons, and infrastructure. As one legislator complained:

“It’s like the schools are the grain truck. Instead of sharing the grain, they just keep raising the sides on the bed and keeping it all for themselves,” said state Sen. Ty Masterson, a conservative Wichita-area Republican. “They’ve been able to keep themselves at the front of the line for a long time.”

What Mr. Masterson knows, I believe, is that the grain truck was replaced by a pick-up truck for years and the result if a long-standing deficiency in funds. As a public school advocate noted:

“You can’t blame schools,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers union. “You can lament it all you want, but it’s a problem of your own making.”

And the problem will require lots of money to fix because Kansas avoided spending nearly enough money for decades. As Mr. Hanna reported:

Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year — more than half of its general revenues — on its public schools. But the state Supreme Court ruled in October that even with a funding increase approved last year, it’s not sufficient under the state constitution.

The state has been in and out of lawsuits over education funding for decades, and the current one was filed in 2010 by four school districts. The Supreme Court has issued five rulings in the past four years requiring new spending on public schools.

In its last ruling in October, the court did not set a specific spending target but hinted that it could be $650 million more a year.

According to the GOP who passed the pro-business tax package that slashed spending in all areas, Kansas was supposed to be rolling in revenue by now since the new businesses they attracted would increase the tax base everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the tax cuts did nothing of the sort and so schools— especially schools serving low income children— suffered deep cuts and compromised programs. And now, the legislators who created this problem, are trying to turn taxpayers against the “greedy” schools who only want what is best for their students. The main reason for this desire to stir up resentment is the unflagging faith that taxes and government are bad… which means that any notion of increasing either is off the table.

“Maybe we say, ‘We’ve got to live within our means,'” said Senate budget committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a moderate Wichita-area Republican. “Maybe we need to reassess the direction we’re going.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, said lawmakers are right to expect to squeeze other parts of state government if they increase spending on schools.

“That is the math of it,” he said. “There’s only so much taxpayer money.”

If the legislature is unwilling to contemplate higher taxes even though the lower taxes did not result in the anticipated stimulus to the businesses in the State, “the math of it” is immutable. But if the reassessment in the direction Kansas is going included an openness to higher taxes to provide superior government services, there would be more taxpayer money to spend and the schools, prisons, and infrastructure in the state would improve. And who knows? If those improved maybe some businesses might consider locating to their state. Lower taxes and crappy services didn’t work… Maybe it’s time to try something different.

 

My Letter to the Local Newspaper on FBI “Dropping the Ball” on Warning about FL Shooter… But What Could They Have Done?

February 17, 2018 Comments off

I was dismayed to read a headline stating that FL Governor Scott called for the head of the FBI to step down over his agency’s failure to intervene when they were alerted to a YouTube post by the individual who ultimately shot and killed 17 people… especially given Governor Scott’s blind support for “gun owner rights”.

Here’s some questions I have for those criticizing the FBI’s failure to intervene when they were alerted to the “disturbing” YouTube post:

=>Should the FBI be able to confiscate the weapons of anyone who makes “disturbing” posts? If not, would the FBI be culpable if the individual who owned those weapons later used them to shoot someone?

=> Should the FBI have the power to mandate mental health services if they determine someone who possesses weapons might use them to harm people?

=> Should the FBI investigate ALL “disturbing” posts on social media brought to their attention by citizens?

=> Should YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or any social media site be able to take down a “disturbing” post? If so, what standard will they use?

=> Should YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or any social media site be required to report a “disturbing” post to law enforcement officials? If so, what standard will they use and what, if anything, will the law enforcement agency be empowered to do?

If we want to solve the problem of school shootings, we would be better off doing so prospectively. We could begin by providing mental health intervention to troubled students when they are enrolled in school and by offering parents the support they need when their children are struggling emotionally as well as academically. But instead of giving teachers and parents the support they need to help troubled students, we are training teachers to be first responders when those same troubled students get the automatic weapons they are free to purchase in the marketplace and leaving parents with nowhere to turn.

As a nation we are expected to spend over $1.1 BILLION dollars on physical security in schools. Instead of spending our money on surveillance cameras, SROs, and upgraded door locks we might consider investing in the social services our students need to succeed in school. And instead of expanding the mission of the FBI to examining social media posts and confiscating weapons, we might provide the schools with the resources they need to meet the needs of all students.

 

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You Can’t Help Someone Who’s Not There… And Without a Change in Focus, You Can’t Even Help Someone Who IS

February 16, 2018 Comments off

Here’s a short but powerful post I pasted from Facebook describing the circumstances that contributed to the ill-being of the student who shot and killed 17 of his former classmates at a FL high school on Wednesday:

“So the killer’s father died 3 years ago. He started posting scary racist images of guns and hurting animals. Then his mother died 3 months ago. His girlfriend broke up with him and got a new boyfriend. He started telling people he wanted to shoot up the school. He got expelled. Why expel a messed up kid whose parents just died? What do we do with people who cannot handle immense pain and loss? Kick them to the curb and let them buy guns?” – Sarah Schulman

You can’t help a student who is not in school… yet as a society we seem unwilling to raise the funds we need to provide the kind of intensive counseling children like this young man require. At some juncture the needs of 3000 children forced the school administrators to permanently expel the shooter. Once the shooter is out of school, he is out of the only safety net that could conceivably help him cope with the stresses associated with the loss of parents and his inability to relate to others.

Disconnection and alienation manifest in other ways as well. Teens who feel socially ostracized turn to drugs and other detestable behaviors that make them hard to love and relate to. If we hope to use public schools as a means of connecting with alienated and troubled youth, we need to change the focus so that relationship building is taught and learned the same way conformance to rules is taught and learned.