By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
How many more mass shootings have to claim innocent lives before we have the courage to stand up for justice and common sense?
The rhetoric that has erupted since the Parkland shootings in Florida is reprehensible. Innocent lives murdered, hundreds of survivors suffering from PTSD and we still cannot move forward with common sense federal regulations to protect all of us as citizens without infringing on someone’s Second Amendment rights.
The articulate, dynamic students from Parkland have given clear voice to the real issues that must be addressed since the massacre — thorough background checks on all who purchase guns, a national registry for all guns and their owners, raising the age to 21 for the purchase of any gun with few exceptions, banning assault weapons with the exception for law enforcement and the military and developing a standardized mental health screening to flag those with potential mental health issues.
Our schools are vulnerable, but as a longtime educator and former school administrator, arming teachers and increasing police presence with weapons is not going to deter a mentally ill person from killing people, if he or she is determined to do that.
We need to be more efficient and effective at identifying students who demonstrate by behavior, school deportment and their writing that there is a real problem.
Every difficult student cannot merely be expelled from school. We need to work with those at-risk students. However, that really becomes a problem every time a school district is on austerity. The first people who are laid off are school social workers, psychologists, nurse teachers and other support staff that are critical in the time of crisis.
Instead of building up an armed security force, we should build up our support services so that they can effectively intervene with the growing number of students who are at risk.
After Parkland, all the politicians from the president on down have talked about doing more to strengthen mental health services. However, our own president has reduced funding from his budget to support mental health services. His opioid commission made substantial recommendations to fight this national health crisis, but to date he has not allocated a dime to support new treatment initiatives and support services for addicts and their families.
The young people from Parkland have sparked a powerful new conversation across our country that speaks beyond the issue of gun control and gun safety. Their courageous voices are challenging us to come together as a nation, urging us to work together to protect all life because it is sacred and fragile. We need to start practicing what we preach!
Divisive and demeaning rhetoric is not going to make America great again; only constructive action on the part of all Americans will. Every citizen who is of age must register to vote. We must do our homework and know what the real issues are all about and not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by political operatives. Our political process and system is broken and ineffective. It needs immediate surgery!
We need to urge the best of the best to run for public office. We must be sure that they are not connected or beholden to the insurance industry, the NRA, the unions, just to name a few powerful entities that seem to be indirectly controlling our nation and its policies.
As Gandhi once said, we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.