Children die when leaders fail to lead

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    On Dec. 7, 20 children were brutally slaughtered along with six hero educators.

    With a burst of gunfire in Newtown, Connecticut, the nation’s innocence is once again shattered and 20 young children lie in their own blood dead, along with caring educators and the twisted young man who snuffed out all their lives.

    Americans are angry that these senseless murders continue with little or no constructive response to prevent them going forward.

    If this mass murder of innocent children and the hero educators, who nurtured and loved them until their last breath, in a school is not a wake-up call that shakes our moral sensibilities to our core, I am uncertain what will.

    Today and for eternity, we are stuck with the memory of this unimaginable massacre of innocence, children and educators.

    As a state and nation, what will be our response?

    Hopefully, doing nothing will no longer be tolerated.

    President Obama spoke in Newtown at an interfaith service to the parents, family, friends and first responders. He got it right when he said we are failing “at our first task,” which he said was to care for the children of the nation. “We are not doing enough, and we will have to change” the president continued.

    Before the tears had dried, the dead were buried and the family and friends had had the time to absorb the magnitude of their loss, let alone grive, the politicians were debating who is at fault.

    Let me make it easy on them —we all are at fault.

    When will enough be enough of the senseless gun violence, be it on the streets of Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, our nation’s capital or the similar Newtown massacres that have become all to common?

    Our national pain should not fade until our state and nation’s leaders take decisive action on multiple fronts to address this horror in our midst.

    We need to embrace the thoughts of historian Will Durant who observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

    If we do not come together now to address this madness, we our giving up on the very soul from which this great nation sprang.

    A Call To Action

    Our response needs to be grander than fortifying our school buildings or putting forth powder-puff gun restrictions.

    Across the nation, we closed antiquated mental health institutions, promising to replace them with appropriate community based-treatment and proceeded to underfund and then slashed the inadequate funding when state and local budgets became tight.

    (See: National Alliance for the Mental Illness (NAMI) State Mental Health Cuts are a National Crisis; State-By-State Data Re
    http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?Section=Top_Story&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=117370)

    We need to appropriately fund prevention and treatment programs for persons with serious mental illness and be ready to protect those individuals and society with hospitalization when warranted. We also must get serious about addressing the stigma that surrounds mental illness often preventing people from seeking treatment.

    Stop the lunacy!

    We need to declaw the National Riffle Association with their nonsense response that “People kill people, guns don’t pull the trigger!” Assault riffles are meant to assault.

    Guns do kill. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof points out that according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written a book on gun violence, “Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times more likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries.”

    Finding a sensible policy, law or regulation that keeps these weapons off our streets and out of the hands of deranged people is not a violation of the Second Amendment and does not interfere with the rights of any legitimate gun owner. It would stop people from hunting other people within our communities.

    Legitimate gun ownership for sport, self-protection or collection purposes is not at issue. Making it easy for anyone to obtain assault weapons with ammunition clips capable of shooting dozens of high powered bullets in seconds is pure lunacy.

    Sensible people can develop laws that can help reduce if not prevent theses senseless mass killing while protecting Second Amendment rights.

    We need to challenge and eliminate the culture of violence we tolerate in movies, television and video games that is corrosive to a healthy and stable society.

    Certainly, we need adequate security in our schools without turning them into prison cells and fortresses creating a false sense of security while making contractors wealthy.

    When Is Enough, Enough?

    When are we willing to recognize that senseless slaughter can be minimized and prevented if we mesh quality mental health services with sensible, enforceable, strong gun ownership laws and a demand that violence is not sold as entertainment?

    President Obama was publicly bought to tears from learning of this latest mass murder from within. He traveled to Newtown and grieved with the parents, siblings, extended family and friends and all Americans.

    This is the fourth time in his four years as president. Obama has been the “commander in grief.” Obama made similar visits to Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, Tucson in 2011 and Aurora, Colo. this July — each time, in the aftermath of a senseless slaughter of innocent life when a disturbed person had access to automatic weapons.

    Yet, he will not be able to offer any meaningful condolences to the next family who will lose loved ones if he does not put his presidential legacy on the line to systemically address this madness.

    The president promised to confront the longstanding opposition in Congress that has blocked sensible gun control measure in the past. He continued, saying his proposals will not just be about weapons.

    “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to guns,” he said.

    The president has directed his VP, Joe Biden, to lead an interagency effort to develop in short order what the White House says will be a multifaceted approach to preventing similar mass shootings and the many other tragic gun deaths that occur each year.

    We can anticipate the Snyder administration announcing a state review of how we can act to help prevent such a tragedy from striking here soon.

    Our state and national response must address easy access to guns and appropriate treatment for people with mental illness, at a minimum.

    We must never forget Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 people, including 20 boys and girls just 6 or 7 years old were murdered.

    As a nation, we are liternally dying.

    The time to act is now. 

    Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as both state mental health director and state superintendent of schools. He can be reached at: tdwatkins88gmail.com 

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