Finding our way in a world filled with rage

Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

It’s an understatement to say that our world today is loaded with rage.

Last week’s tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is but one example.  The lives of the 17 victims are irreplaceable.  Unfortunately, life will never be the same again for their families and for the adolescents and adults who were in the school that day.  They will carry the “pekel” for 120 years and beyond.

In response and wishing to effect positive change, Emma Gonzalez and her fellow grieving students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are mobilizing forces for tighter gun control laws.  No doubt their planned march on Washington scheduled for next month will be built on this groundswell of anguish.  It’s one way to go.  More on that later.

Rabbi Schneur Kaplan Chabad Fort Lauderdale

There are responses and proactive actions for us as a community.

We are a nation of Rachmanim, Bayshanim, and Gomlei Chasadim.  The Chabad rabbis on the ground in Florida were extraordinary, stepping to the plate in a horrific vacuum of confusion and angst and bringing an appropriate framework for action and grief.  Worldwide, we davened and recited Tehillim.

Yet more needs to be done.  Let’s begin with security.

Our own precious children were in school when this disaster was perpetrated.  Did we question (even for a moment) their safety?  And then we sent them back to school the next day.  Without thinking about it.  And then we went to shul on Shabbos.  Without thinking about security.

  • Few of us know and understand the security procedures and systems in our schools and shuls – do you?
  • What’s the most recent time our children had a lockdown drill?
  • How often are their lockdown drills?
  • How tight a relationship is there between the schools and local police precincts?
  • What’s our community’s relationship with Homeland Security?
  • Are all school and shul entrances secured? How?
  • If not, is there a plan to secure them? This includes back and side entrances for deliveries and garbage pickup, not just how children and others enter and exit.
  • Do we have security measures in place for community gatherings and dinners?

While professionals may deal with these questions, we parents and community members also have a role.  We should care.  We need to care. We should be asking the right questions.  And we should be volunteering to help move all our Mosdos into the most secure security situations possible.  It requires work, money and time.

The operative question should be – What can I do to help? 

Communication – honest communication with our children – is paramount.  Even when it’s uncomfortable for us adults.  We must make the time to speak to our children about this (and any other) tragedy.  Please refer Dr. Lightman’s Talking Tips for a few guidelines.

Further, Nicholas Kruz and his sickeningly premeditated shooting rampage didn’t appear out of nowhere.  There were warning signs something was brewing.  Kruz must have been plagued by psychiatric, social and academic demons for a long time.  Did teachers pick up on clues and recommend evaluations and/or interventions?

It’s my understanding that the Parkland school district is a good, solid school system.  Yet even in good school systems, it’s not uncommon for teachers to be overwhelmed with the duties of teaching “regular” students.  But if there are warning signs, pay heed and involve the administration.  Fast.  At the risk of sounding trite, an ounce prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Please G-d, no other kid should go unnoticed.

Before being expelled from school (and it’s usually a long road until one is expelled), Kruz had shared with classmates pictures of animals he had shot.  His classmates allege that he threatened several times to bring his legally obtained firearms to school.  Teenagers may have a propensity for gossip but they usually want to help others.  Were Kruz’s threats reported?  How were they dealt with?

I’m guessing that the straw that probably broke the proverbial camel’s back and snapped Kruz’s mind was his mother’s death this past November.  Subsequently, he went to live with a foster family.  His firearms were locked in their family safe; they profess having no idea he had a key to the safe.

At the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), we at Total Family Care question parents at every well visit about the presence of firearms in the home.  If the answer is affirmative, we then inquire about a separate secured location for ammunition.  Why?  Because it’s for the safety of all.

I don’t know the foster system intimately.  Am I assuming correctly that the foster system has in place the right checks-and-balance system to check out the status of firearms in a home?  The responsibility of the persons who have access to the key to the safe?

Much has been said about the FBI receiving an anonymous tip on January 5th that Kruz had a “desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts” yet failing to act.  We know that the FBI has been busy of late.  But there are no words to justify this inaction.

Let’s use this information obtained with the benefit of 20/20 vision in hindsight to move forward intelligently and correctly.

Understandably, there’s focus on gun control.  There has been much focus on gun control for years in the wake of Sandy Hook.  The vision and energy displayed by Gonzalez and her friends is admirable.  Planning for a march in Washington to impact mid-term elections is a high goal, especially for a high school senior.  May her energies take her far, doing wonderful things for all humanity.

Yet the world is not so black-and-white.   Allow me to elaborate.

It’s not even a question that access to firearms in this country needs to be tightened.  Considerably tightened.  There’s also a difference between a handheld pistol and other firearms.  I don’t think it’s possible to outlaw all weapons which is why access to them needs to be revamped and ricocheted up a marked amount.  Outlawing them will only send them underground; they’ll be obtainable but perhaps at the price of illegal actions which will be only ore difficult to track.

Revisiting the Brady Law is a must.  Assault weapons and such should have in place stringent background checks.  Excuses that people need them for hunting is not acceptable.  We don’t want humans to be hunted.

Prohibition in this country during the 1920s and 30s imposed a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages.  The result?  The bootlegging industry began.  While fortunes were made as people did almost anything to procure their liquor, it was accompanied by loss of life.   It’s too horrific to imagine what would be created if the firearms were completely banned.  There are insidious sources that will stand by, ready, willing and able to fill that void.

Gonzalez shouldn’t stop her efforts.  She’s listening to that inner voice that wants meaningful change.  Good for her.  Perhaps by marching in Washington, DC on a grand scale will affect other changes that can prevent similar tragedies from happening.  “March For Our Lives” is planned for March 24 2018.

What we do know is that prevention is the key to preventing another school shooting.  Part of that is through securing our schools and other institutions, and making sure that no child “slips between the cracks” would be two tremendous accomplishments.  At least they are places to start.


As always, daven.

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