Demanding action on an American tragedy

three images consisting of American flag at half mast, Joe Campolo's grandmother with birthday cake, and wine bottle stems with exposed corks

Schools and guns – Like many of you, I continue to be in a state of confusion, sadness, and anger – from a lawyer’s perspective, confusion over how to reconcile the Second Amendment with today’s realities; from a father’s perspective, sadness over how the parents and loved ones of the victims must feel; and from a Marine’s perspective, anger because helpless victims were murdered while unable to protect themselves.

This tragic shooting shows the complexity of the problem because all the purported system safeguards completely failed: someone known to be mentally ill was free to legally purchase an unusual and dangerous weapon; the FBI failed to act on a tip that this person had written about his desire to be a “professional school shooter”; the Florida Department of Children and Families had determined he was at “low risk” of causing harm, despite all the red flags; and a cowardly deputy hid in the parking lot rather than confront the shooter, despite his sworn obligation to “protect and serve.”

What I have found, however, in reading everyone’s comments from last week’s post, and in discussing this issue at length with my friends and colleagues, is hope – an understanding exists among us that while we may have different views about causes of and solutions for these devastating events, this time will be different; this time we will demand action now from our elected officials; this time we will not tolerate attempts to politicize these occurrences as justification for one “side” or another; this time we are unified in our humanity.

Truly solving this epidemic requires a holistic approach, but to get there we must be persistent and vigilant. We must band together and force our elected officials to stop talking and start acting, and not remove any pressure until real change is accomplished. For motivation, let us never forget those poor children and teachers who heroically used their bodies as shields from a barrage of bullets, perhaps wondering at that moment how the system had failed them.

Safety/security – Recall 9/11. After the attacks we put immediate security measures in place to help eliminate another attack: increased TSA presence, more sensitive metal detectors, armed air marshals, etc. We grumbled but tolerated these inconveniences, knowing that these were attempts to help ensure our safety. With our schools, we need to explore safety options with the same vigilance and the same unity we had as a country after 9/11, while we continue to implement solutions to the problem.

Personally, I feel that schools should have heightened security measures (it seems odd to me that we use armed security guards to protect our money at banks but not our kids at school), but I understand and respect that some folks may not want armed security at their schools. Something we should immediately require, however, is for schools to have metal detectors and monitored camera security systems in place. I know it sounds simplistic, but we must insist on measures that can give these innocent victims even seconds more to try and protect themselves.

Automatic weapons – An overwhelming focus is on the need to control automatic weapons (including bump stocks and other devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic), with which I wholeheartedly agree. Other than being invaded by a foreign country or to protect ourselves against an insurgent government, I can’t imagine a need for private citizens to possess automatic weapons (and to address those situations, we could have some sort of public armory or licensing/registration process).

Opponents of a ban on automatic weapons argue that it is their right under the Second Amendment to possess them; they are wrong. Like it or not, the United States Supreme Court has the final say on what rights we have under the Constitution. In 2008, the Supreme Court in the Heller decision (written by Justice Scalia) determined that while private citizens have a right under the Second Amendment to possess handguns, shotguns, and rifles, they do not have a right to possess firearms that are “dangerous and unusual,” which automatic weapons have been determined to be (U.S. v. Fincher, 8th Circuit). These decisions not only opened the door but also gave political cover to all elected officials to lawfully remove automatic weapons from the protections of the Second Amendment (the same way certain speech is not covered by the First Amendment). As voters, we must use this issue as a litmus test and throw anyone out of office who will not immediately agree to ban private citizens from possessing automatic weapons.

Mental health – To me this is the ultimate resolution (to most other societal ills as well), as I don’t think that mentally healthy human beings would randomly shoot innocent people. But it is a colossal undertaking, and requires a total paradigm shift in this country. Currently, our entire criminal justice system is predicated on “locking people up” rather than trying to find root causes and then treating those issues before crimes are committed. While folks correctly point out that other countries not experiencing these acts of violence have stricter gun laws, they usually fail to point out that these countries also have less incarceration and a better treatment system in place for the mentally ill, leaving us with a chicken and egg situation. We need to stop talking about treatment and start to procure resources and administer treatment. Period.

Notoriety of shooters – Another necessary component of solving this problem is eliminating the spotlight and notoriety the media gives these killers. Knowing that they will achieve “immortality” seems to be a motivating factor for these troubled youths, many of whom suffer in large part from isolation.

Media outlets need to stop this practice immediately, and we need to demand that they do so. Incredibly, many media outlets will not show unruly fans at sporting events who run out onto the field because they are “not looking to glorify” that type of behavior. Yet, they have no issue glorifying a school shooter by continuously sharing his name, photo, social media, videos, etc. Truly deplorable.

Again, I thank everyone for reading my thoughts and sharing theirs, and I challenge us all to not let this issue fade away and not let our elected officials off the hook as we have so many times before. All of those who have lost their lives to this senseless violence deserve nothing less than our full and focused attention.


Vintage dinner for a vintage friendship – We enjoyed dinner last Thursday with my boyhood friend John Cierski (of Madison Global Partners) and his beautiful wife, Lydia, at Vintage Prime Steak House. John and I shared a porterhouse for two, washed down with Chateau Montelena (both a bottle of Chardonnay and Cabernet in honor of the movie Bottle Shock). Great time with old friends…

Quail Leg in a Jar – Friday night we meandered our way to Mirabelle Tavern with friends Angelica and Joe Camberato (of National Business Capital). One item on the menu, the Quail Leg in a Jar, piqued our curiosity so we all ordered it. Not a good call… a better call was the 2011 Mad Hatter, a blend by Dancing Hares Vineyard.

TAO: Drum Heart – On Saturday we celebrated my sister Cynthia’s birthday with dinner at Mario’s followed by the unique and amazing performance of TAO: Drum Heart at the Staller Center. The show blends extraordinary Japanese drumming with energetic choreography – a must-see! (But I’m pretty sure you missed it, so check out the other fantastic shows on the Staller calendar here.)

1920s girl – Ending our four-day eating marathon, on Sunday we celebrated my grandmother’s 98th birthday with our entire family at Mama’s Italian restaurant in Centereach. A fantastic meal, but to this day, no one makes better “gravy” than Grandma.