Open Forum: ‘Are we doing enough?’

Posted: January 14, 2013

Are we doing enough? It seems like such a simple question, but when you ask in the context of the tragic events that took place in Newtown, Conn., last month, the answer becomes much more complex.

Are we doing enough to protect our children, our citizens, our communities? Are we doing enough to prevent such a tragic event from occurring here? Are we doing enough to ensure we have the resources to be able to effectively respond to such an incident whether it be of smaller magnitude or, unimaginably, larger?

I have no doubt that a great many of us have spent time thinking about how such a scenario would play out here in Winchester and our surrounding area. I am equally sure our public officials have thought about this issue and probably have taken some steps to evaluate policies and procedures. But, if we are going to be honest with ourselves, the answer to the question “Are we doing enough?” is no.

I say this with the greatest respect for our community leaders, elected officials, first responders, mental-health providers, school administrators and teachers (both public and private). These dedicated professionals obviously care tremendously about our community and would do anything within their power to keep our citizens safe, especially our most vulnerable ones.

I make the statement that we are not doing enough because we have yet to initiate a collective “conversation” in our community about what transpired in Newtown and how we can learn from that terrible situation.

We have certainly seen the reaction at the highest levels of government, and we have seen some reaction at the state level. But I believe the most effective response for our community will come from our community.

This conversation, which should be initiated by our elected officials, could include such subjects as how we can educate our citizens about mental-health resources; how we train teachers, parents, students, friends, and neighbors to recognize someone with a problem that could lead to violence; how we educate gun owners on how to properly secure weapons in their homes or businesses, how to ensure our police are properly trained and can respond across jurisdictional boundaries; how parents can have a frank discussion with their children about bullying and violence, what mental health resources are available to our community and identify gaps in those resources; how we evaluate the security of our schools and other public facilities, etc.

This conversation could include experts from our local community, citizens, local government agency personnel and others as appropriate.

None of these ideas are unique. People are discussing these topics and others all over our country. I believe we should do more than just talk about these issues individually. I believe our community needs to come together and have this conversation collectively and cooperatively and that this conversation results in recommendations and action.

I believe, and I think many others agree, we should ask our elected officials of Frederick and Clarke counties and the City of Winchester to create a formal mechanism to have this conversation as quickly as possible.

Are we doing enough? I don’t know if we can ever say “yes” to that question. I do know we can do more. And I do know that such an undertaking will be very, very difficult. But wouldn’t it be worth it?

Art Major, a former member of City Council, is a resident of Winchester.