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Duckler: After another mass shooting, is anyone ready to talk about this?

  • A woman cries as she bows her head in prayer during a vigil at the Parkland Baptist Church, for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert

  • A student mourns the loss of her friend during a community vigil at Pine Trails Park, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla., for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson

  • Ryan Schroy, 15, left, Dylan O'Neill, 15, and Kaedree Knox 15, right, embrace each other during a vigil at the Parkland Baptist Church, for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert

  • Kieran Ahearn, right, cries on the shoulder of her friend, Lara Bortolotti, left, during a community vigil at Pine Trails Park, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla., for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson

  • Austin Burden, 17, cries on the shoulder of a friend after a vigil at the Parkland Baptist Church, for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert

  • Dylan O'Neill, 15, facing, hugs James Bolger, 16, both students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the conclusion of a vigil at the Parkland Baptist Church, for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at the school, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert

  • Marla Eveillard, 14, cries before the start of a vigil at the Parkland Baptist Church, for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from the school, opened fire there yesterday, killing at least 17 people. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert



Monitor columnist
Thursday, February 15, 2018

Had enough?

Or will it be more of the same in the coming days and weeks and months, since a teen killed 17 other teens Wednesday in Florida?

More yelling, from one side of the congressional aisle to the other. More finger-pointing. More excuses, that it’s the byproduct of a free society, that it’s too uncomfortable to open a dialogue, that the debate is too hostile for anything meaningful to emerge from the latest mass shooting.

So, instead of treating this like a national emergency of the highest priority, instead of calling meetings on both local and national levels, then reinforcing any progress with follow-up meetings, instead of funneling money into programs to figure out what the hell is going on in the United States, we wonder if a porn star slept with the president.

Meanwhile, people get gunned down at music festivals, and in schools, churches and theaters.

“These are in the broadest sense our neighbors,” said Wayne Lesperance, the co-director of the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership at New England College. “Our fellow citizens are being affected by these things, these actions, these activities, these events. What is our obligation to that? What do we do? Can we have a conversation about where we are?”

Finally?

Lesperance wears many hats at NEC in Henniker, including professor of political science. But his role with the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership stood out, because when it comes to mass murder in public places, the United States needs community engagement and leadership.

We saw why this week. We went online and saw the giant headline, the one about 17 high school students who were shot and killed in Parkland, Fla.

Surprised?

The shooter this time, we learned, had been expelled from that very same high school. He was a loner, with no friends. He liked to show off his collection of firearms. He liked to kill animals. His mom had to call the cops to help keep him in line.

Was anyone listening? Lesperance cited societal reasons relating to our macho culture, which pressures boys to tough it out, suck it up, never show weakness.

“There’s all kinds of indications out there that this kid was in crisis, and I’m not making excuses for his behavior,” Lesperance told me. “But there were warning signs. Where was the ability for this kid to turn to someone and say, “I’m having a hard time,” when stuff like this happens? It’s rare, but it’s happening more and more.”

More and more. Columbine High School. Pennsylvania Amish school. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. Colorado movie theater during Batman. Sandy Hook Elementary School. Naval facility in Washington. Church in South Carolina. Community college in Oregon. Gay nightclub in Florida. Country music festival in Las Vegas.

Now this. Nothing to see here?

What shouldn’t be seen here, of course, is politics, bickering, agendas. Forget gun control and Second Amendment rights.

Meet, meet, meet, Lesperance, insists. Talk, talk, talk.

“It becomes a little overwhelming and often intimidating for someone who isn’t passionate about gun control or gun rights, but who really wants to have a conversation about what’s happening that leads to the death of 17 kids at a school,” Lesperance said.

“How do we as a community, how do we as citizens sort of talk through what’s happened? Folks sort of get crowded out by a lot of noise that comes from powerful advocates on either side.”

The consequences of using these shootings as a political football are devastating. Does anyone really feel safe anymore? And if you do – if you exhibit the ‘This-can’t-happen-here’ syndrome – is that wise?

In fact, we got a taste of the future decades ago at Concord High School, when a junior at the school walked through the hallways with a loaded shotgun and was later killed by police. He was the lone fatality that day, on Dec. 3, 1985.

Sarah Chalsma was a student at Concord High that day. She later wrote a column for the Monitor following the Newtown school shooting.

“I think of how I felt on a cold day in December back in 1985 and how I feel on a cold day in December 2012,” Chalsma wrote. “This horrendous crime affects not only the families of the lost children and staff in Connecticut but also those all over the United States who have lost a child, have mentally unstable children or family members, or who have experienced a crime in their own school.”

Chalsma was referring to Sandy Hook, where 26 children and school staffers had been shot and killed the week before. Since then, more than 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings, according to the New York Times.

Is Rundlett Middle School truly safe these days? Broken Ground School? The Capitol Center for the Arts?

Really?

Finding solutions is hard, but where are those meetings we talked about earlier, the ones that might save a life? Where’s the honest national discourse, the search for answers about an issue that could bring Americans together, not break us apart?

After all, we’re all in this together.

“That’s the thing that is missing, these town hall meetings, and they should be bipartisan,” Lesperance told me. “It should be your delegation coming together and saying, ‘We’re taking off the Republican and Democratic labels and we’re going to talk about this as Americans. We’re going to hear from you and we’re also going to bring experts in to talk about what’s going on, about these issues we’re facing.’ ”

Maybe lawmakers at the State House can coordinate a series of meetings throughout the state, or maybe our delegation in Washington, D.C., can take the lead. Maybe Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, or Sen. Maggie Hassan, or Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, or Rep. Annie Kuster can step forward, pound her fist on the lectern, do what’s right for the people, not their party.

Because people in power have one thing on their side: The knowledge that another shooting is just around the bend.

“We ought to be doing this as neighbors, but we don’t see that,” Lesperance said. “Where’s the leadership, and where’s the profile in courage from elected officials?

“Who’s going to say, ‘Doing my job is more important than keeping my job?’ ” Lesperance said. “I’d go campaign for that elected official.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)