5:29 PM EST, January 7, 2013
Seven years ago, I disagreed with a New Britain minister — who once was my pastor — when he started a petition to bring metal detectors to the high school. His well-intended response was to allegations that a student at the school was found with a loaded pistol and ammunition.
In 1993, years before the Rev. Alfred Smith's petition, a New Britain High student was shot and killed on the high school steps by rivals. The pastor had enough.
The month that the petition was drafted, September 2006, a loaded gun was allegedly brought into Bloomfield High by the son of a Hartford police officer. In yet another gun-related incident that month, two 16-year-olds were arrested after one of them was found in possession of a loaded gun at an East Hartford alternative school. Police were responding to a tip that the boys were planning to kill three of their peers.
These incidents were seven years after Columbine and before school massacres at Virginia Tech and Newtown.
The rampant gun violence among youth stems from the evolution of a new generation; some of whom fashion themselves gangstas with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality when it comes to exacting revenge.
I told the Rev. Smith then that bringing metal-detecting wands to a public school was akin to using them at a place of worship. Sacrilegious.
The Newtown slayings — 20 students and six teachers killed; plus the shooter and his mother — have raised the level of discourse about how to curb gun violence. My position has not changed on metal detectors at public schools.
Certain schools, those in crime-ridden neighborhoods, absolutely need a soft police presence on or near campus. There are times when an officer is needed on the ground to handle immediate criminal and arrest-related matters, such as assaults or altercations that filter from the streets onto campus.
We're kidding ourselves, though, if we think simplistic solutions such as stiffer gun controls and more armed guards will stop the madness. It will simply leave playgrounds, churches, grocery stores, libraries and train stations as other public targets for a deranged person.
Remember, there were armed personnel at Columbine and Virginia Tech. The more perplexing problem is how do we retrain an entrenched mind-set among some young people that picking up a gun is a viable option when under duress or feeling disrespected.
Gary Slutkin, a Chicago epidemiologist who studied diseases in large populations, sees youth violence not so much as a crime, but as a mental health disease that is highly contagious. The malady, he told me a few years ago, needs to be detected early and treated vigorously.
Slutkin's CeaseFire organization, which was profiled in The New York Times Magazine, attempts to diffuse street violence by identifying potential street conflicts and intervening with peaceful solutions and alternatives.
Chicago is still mired in urban violence. In the last three years, 260 city schoolchildren have been killed; 13 times the number of children slain in one horrifying day in Sandy Hook. The Newtown killer apparently had a dysfunctional home environment. His dad (and brother ) had little contact with him. A similar profile is seen with most urban gang members.
So, why don't we supersize what CeaseFire attempts by identifying young people from particularly difficult family backgrounds — urban, suburban and rural — and infuse intensive conflict resolution interventions and counseling.
Dr. Anthony Morgan, the former chief of general surgery and trauma at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, started a prevention program several years ago called "Let's Not Meet By Accident." It was designed for high school teens to understand firsthand the inner workings of an emergency room operating table — and the consequences of irrational and reckless behavior by their peers.
Morgan would have a student lie on the operating table, while telling the others graphically about operations and incisions he performed in trying to save victims of street violence or injuries caused by riding in cars while intoxicated or without seat belts. Morgan wanted to change the behavior of young people by teaching them to value their lives and others.
The horrors in Sandy Hook put an exclamation point on the burgeoning problem of gun violence and mental health issues in America.
It's an epidemic, folks. Let's treat it as one.
Correction: A New Britain High School student was shot and killed on the school steps in 1993. The year was incorrect in a previous version of this column posted Jan. 3 at 3:25 p.m.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FOX CT).
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