A President's Reflections


Posted on December 18, 2012

The mass killing of schoolchildren and their teachers in Newtown, CT last week has left our country (and much of the world) reeling.  Even the NRA, usually so vocal in the wake of any shooting, has remained silent in the face of the unspeakable.  I am usually happy to weigh in on just about any topic, or as Pat likes to say about me: “Often wrong, but never in doubt!”  But I find myself struggling to pull together any kind of coherent commentary in the wake of this latest mass shooting in our country.

A couple of people have asked me, “Shouldn’t you say something to the campus community about this terrible event?” and those inquiries have finally prompted me to write today. 

I’ll start with the practical.  Our campus is no more immune than any other when it comes to the “Could it happen here?” question.  I have some hope that a smaller, caring campus community like ours would sooner spot a deeply disturbed or troubled person and that we could intervene.  This means we all need to be supportive of those who might be emotionally struggling and speak up if we have worries.  Unlike a school building, a campus is almost impossible to “lock down.”  However, we have a well developed crisis management plan in place and have tight coordination with local law enforcement (who train for shooter scenarios), but it is something of which we should again remind people and we’ll use upcoming meetings of one kind or another to simply walk people through the essentials.  Most simply, there are crisis situations that require people to evacuate (a fire, for example) and others that require people to shelter in place: stay put, lock or barricade themselves in, and lay low (in the situation of a shooter, for example). 

Our our emergency management guide is based on a color code system and indicates which option is in force.  We will update everyone, as I mentioned, but in the meantime everyone should be on our SNHU Alerts system.  We update our crisis management plan every year, do practice exercises, and and will soon release a simpler to read and understand one-page guide.

On the topic of gun policy, I continue to believe that our society is afflicted with a strange kind of madness about our weapons and our politicians are held hostage by the fanatics of the NRA.   While a fan of President Obama’s, he has been far too silent for far too long on important gun legislation like the assault weapons ban.  I sensed in his comments in Newtown a new resolve to address this madness.

While I don’t care for guns, I don’t seek a ban.  I grew up in a family of hunters and veterans and guns are not uncommon in the households of my uncles and cousins and nephews and nieces.  Like most gun owners I know, they are careful about their guns.  In fact, while an overwhelming majority of Americans support legal ownership of guns, the majority also support more stringent gun laws, a ban on automatic weapons, and limits on large capacity ammunition clips.  Check out these facts about guns in America: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/nine-facts-about-guns-and-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/.  We can have sane gun ownership in the US and the data irrefutably shows we will see far fewer incidents like Newtown if and hen we do.  To argue otherwise is to ignore the facts — i.e. it’s blatant or willful ignorance, maybe both.

Or as this letter from today’s NY Times captured it:

To the Editor:

The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2012:

Page A1: “Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut.” Twenty children shot, 20 died.

Page A9: “Man Stabs 22 Children in China.” Twenty-two received knife wounds, 22 survived.

National Rifle Association claim: Guns don’t kill. People do.

Case closed.

Decatur, Ga., Dec. 16, 2012

In the next six months more Americans will die from gun violence than all those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and 25 years of terrorism together.  Enough said.

On a yet more philosophical level, the shooting of innocents in Newtown challenges each of us to make sense of good and evil in the world.  But it also forces us to ask what kind of society we have built in terms of values and ethics.  The point I am trying to make is in a culture saturated with violence — in our war making, video game playing, film and television watching, and gun culture — is it a surprise that we do great violence to children every day in our own country and abroad?  If we look at bucolic CT, this felt monstrously abnormal and it was. Yet how many inner city children will die this year in acts no less arbitrary or violent?  More than 20.  Further away, many more children have died from US drone strikes this year (168 in Pakistan alone) than perished in Newtown and their parents grieve no less and missiles suddenly fired from the sky feel as arbitrary and merciless as those bullets fired last Friday. 

We live in a culture that fetishizes violence, that makes weapons of amazingly destructive power easily available to every day people, and we spend more on our military than the next 20 countries combined (and 18 of those are our allies!).  Those facts add up to a terrible reality: that there will be more Newtowns in our future — almost unthinkable really — unless we start to address the deeper and scarier propensity to violence that seems to lurk deep in the American psyche.  We are in so many ways the best of peoples and have led the world (or at last most of it)  in civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and respect for individual freedom.  Yet so much of the world remains befuddled at how much daily violence we are prepared to do and to accept.

None of this is an argument to grieve any less for those poor little kids killed last week.  We found ourselves watching the evening news as they showed photos of each child and described their favorite activities and their hopes and it was almost unbearable.  Pat and I sat there and cried.

We can be better this.  For the sake of 26 teachers and little kids people slaughtered last week, we have to be.








One thought on “Newtown

  1. Martha Diaz says:

    As the parent of a current undergrad student living 5 hours away from our son during the school year, I want to thank you for your post. We are heart broken for the horrific incident that took place in CT and or hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends of those who loss loved ones. We are all sharing this pain and pray for better days to come.

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