Sunday, July 12, 2020

MORE STRAIGHT TALK

The Time to Act is Now


The events of the last couple of decades regarding the senseless violence that has become part of our history here in America is hard for anyone to wrap their minds around. You can’t help but cry when you think about the losses suffered by families across this great nation.

Whether it was in our schools, at a concert or even in a church, Americans were shocked and saddened by these violent acts perpetrated on innocent victims who had done nothing wrong, but were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’ve spent most of my adult life associated with emergency services in one way or another; as a firefighter, in EMS and in law enforcement. Because of that, my heart goes out to those first responders and the agony they have endured having to deal with these tragedies. In that vocation you do not leave the job behind at the factory door or in your office, you take it with you no matter where you go and those visions stay in your mind for the rest of your life.

I’m not sure that legislation alone provides us with an answer to these issues. There are cities in this nation with some of the strictest gun control laws that still suffer from high rates of loss of life due to gun violence (for example, Chicago, Illinois).

When I was growing up in New Hampshire they taught hunter safety as one of the afterschool programs. Young men would bring their shotguns or rifles to the school and they would be secured until those afterschool classes began. At the end of the program you would proudly be given a certificate indicating your completion of the course. All of this happened during a different time in our history, but it makes you think about why the changes have come about concerning where we find ourselves today.

Our culture has changed in our nation and it is time that we reflect on that and put ourselves back on a path which will help us self-correct the unintentional errors of the past.

I sincerely believe that we have “desensitized” our youth to the value of life. The digital age has had a major impact regarding that issue. Kids today are focused more on a hand held device or computer screen then they are on actually having “fun” or interacting with others socially. Some close themselves off from reality and live inside this imaginary world.

Now there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of some of this new and expanding technology, but like anything it should be done in moderation. Not all young minds are impacted in the same manner, but all it takes is one to produce a tragedy.

Electronic game manufacturers have created some of the most violent and sadistic alternate reality diversions, providing for a potential negative impact on the minds of some of our most vulnerable adolescents. The fact that some youngsters spend continuous hours in front of a screen immersed in this violence will have an impact on an impressionable mind.

I would be wrong to lay the blame on this singular issue, for there are many: the breakdown of the family unit, the lack of respect for authority, and other societal challenges.

The question of how to protect the most vulnerable and valuable asset we have, our children, is front and center in our minds today. I’m not sure that arming teachers is the correct way forward. I do support Governor Scott’s initiative to invest in the hardening of school campuses, so as to limit access by those looking to do harm. The availability for increased funding for properly trained school resource officers is another segment of the governor’s plan to help deal with these school shootings.

Marco Island’s own Police Chief Al Schettino led an effort, supported by many parents and concerned citizens, to increase his department’s presence on our local school campuses. Schettino has extensive experience in that area and believes strongly in the embedding of officers within the schools to allow these young and impressionable minds to interact with law enforcement on a more personal basis, establishing a higher level of trust between all.

City council wisely followed Schettino’s lead on this issue and supported this initiative to help protect those most vulnerable in our community.

We as a nation need to have a serious conversation to plot a path forward to deal with these issues of violence. The need for that rational conversation has to occur now and not be put off.

It is amazing that this year will mark 52 years since the shooter at the University of Texas killed 14 people and wounded another 31. It has been 19 years since the Columbine massacre, the Sandy Hook shooting took place five years ago, and the tragedy in Vegas last October took the lives of 58 individuals and injured another 851.

I can only hope that the terrible carnage in Parkland, Florida will provide us with the courage to have that serious and rational discussion regarding these types of tragedies and move forward to make the necessary societal changes before we read of another heartbreak.

Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced awardwinning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com

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