Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Pistol Packin' Principals?

03-04-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

There finally seems to be a lot of willingness to come up with strategies to prevent future mass shootings at our schools. But the fact that we even have to discuss the issue at all shows how far our society has come apart at the seams. How did things change from the days of leaving your car unlocked and windows down to having to install alarm systems to prevent theft? Maybe I am just being sentimental and nostalgic but the not too distant past seemed a lot safer and saner.

One of the proposals being put forward to stop a shooter is to arm teachers or school administrators. While I see the logic in that and am not completely opposed to it, it certainly is not the first lever I want to pull. When you really look at it, considering the number of schools in our country and the number of school days each year, these horrifying shootings are rare events, though one is too many, for sure. So in effect, we would be preparing teachers to take action for something that is unlikely to occur. But we will still have to make sure teachers are regularly trained and updated without letting our guard down. Someone with a firearm that does not know how to use it or properly secure it, can be a danger as well. It is way too easy to let our guard down once we start to feel secure.

In a similar way, we conduct regular fire drills in our schools despite the fact that no major fires have occurred in recent memory in a school. But fire drills also teach children how to act in an orderly way in a dangerous situation, to follow directions and not panic. We have also reduced the likelihood of fires in schools by eliminating risks and dangerous practices, better building codes and regular fire safety inspections. While arming teachers may reduce the likelihood of a school shooting it does not address the causes of why someone would shoot up a school in the first place. Just as we try to eliminate the likely causes of fires we should look to eliminate the likely causes of students turning into killers.

Over the years our teachers have had to become social workers, especially as families’ break-up; we have had to train teachers to spot signs of child neglect and abuse and how to report that; more recently teachers have become behavior interventionists as out of control behaviors become more common in the classrooms. Do we now add to the list: armed security personnel? This may be news for people in 2018 but teachers are in the classroom to teach! Their primary purpose is to educate young minds and form character in young people. Each time we add another task we subtract from their primary purpose. We simply make it harder for teachers to teach. Arming school personnel should be at best a short-term measure until we can agree on more effective strategies.

The idea behind arming teachers is to give them the ability to take immediate and effective action in the face of danger. We need to extend that same principle to law enforcement and mental health counselors, parents, teachers, clergy and other concerned persons so that they can take immediate action when a person is identified as potentially violent. Specifically, we need to loosen up the mental health laws so that a potential psychotic killer can be taken off the streets and placed in a supervised therapeutic environment. Right now, it can be almost impossible to place someone for more than a few days in an inpatient treatment setting.

It is obvious now that someone like the Parkland shooter should not have been able to purchase a firearm. Putting in place a true universal background check system in which the states must participate rather than just the Federal government is key to keeping firearms out of the wrong hands. This should also include, just as we have mandatory reporters for child and elderly abuse and neglect, certain categories of people and professions should be mandated to report to NCIS real or suspected violent prone individuals based on an agreed protocol. Until a thorough assessment is done, just as is done with child abuse, a person should be temporarily prevented from obtaining/possessing a firearm. Innocent people can get caught up in this so there must also be procedures in place to adjudicate disputes quickly.

Still, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the proper procedures will change things once for all. People intent on violence will often go undetected and even if they are and they can’t get their hands on guns they can easily make bombs from fertilizer and chemicals purchased at the local Hardware Store as did the Oklahoma City bomber. No, what is needed is a complete change to our culture that exalts violence and death and undermines authority at every turn. There is lots of wisdom in the Church’s call to Respect Life.


Fr. John B.