Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
The mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., continues to reverberate across the country and our region. Kojo explores the overlapping issues of school safety, gun control and the challenges of talking to kids about tragic news.
- Jamin Raskin Member, Maryland State Senate (D- Dist. 20 Montgomery County); and Professor of Law, American University's Washington College of Law
- Daniel Domenech Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators (AASA); Former Superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)
- Janice D'Arcy Reporter and "On Parenting" Blogger, The Washington Post
- Joseph Viola Educational Psychologist, St. Albans School; professor, The George Washington University Professional Psychology Program
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In much of the country, school started this morning as it has most Monday mornings. But few parents kissed their kids goodbye without thinking about the Connecticut families who are having funerals for their children this week after the horrifying shooting at an elementary school there on Friday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAcross the Washington region, teachers, parents and students are trying to cope with their sorrow, their fear and their anger that something like this could happen yet again. While psychologists offer advice about how to talk with kids about the violence, school security experts are revisiting their game plans for the day the unthinkable happens. And lawmakers around the region and on Capitol Hill are sitting down to draft new laws that could make it harder for people to obtain and use assault weapons.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to look at how families, schools and local communities are reacting to this shooting is Daniel Domenech. He is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He's former superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. Dan Domenech, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
MR. DANIEL DOMENECHGreat to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Janice D'Arcy. She is a reporter and the On Parenting blogger with The Washington Post. Janice, thank you for joining us.
MS. JANICE D'ARCYThank you, Kojo. I certainly wish it was under better circumstances.
NNAMDIWe all do. Jo Viola is an educational psychologist at St. Albans School. He's also a professor in the George Washington University Professional Psychology Program. Jo Viola, good to see you again.
PROF. JOSEPH VIOLAGood to see you. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Jamie Raskin is a member of the Maryland State Senate. He represents District 20. He's a Democrat, District 20 in Montgomery County. He's also a professor of law at American University's Washington College of Law. Jamie, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. JAMIN RASKINThanks for have us, Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. What was the mood at your kid's school this morning when you dropped them off? 800-433-8850. Joe, you are the school psychologist at a school, St. Albans, here in Northwest D.C. What's the school doing today in response to the tragedy in Newtown?
VIOLAWell, St. Albans is a church school, Kojo, so we started the day this morning at seven o'clock inviting families to come to the school, to our chapel, not for any formal service but something to gather as a community in quiet meditation and reflection and offer our thoughts and prayers to the people of Newtown. We spent the first hour of the day in the chapel, sort of a very informal way with families and faculty together.
VIOLAAnd then we transitioned into our first period class at eight o'clock in the chapel with a more formal service and a reminder that -- a remembrance for those that have passed and also an explicit acknowledgement in a very direct language with the students, serious simple talk, what's been going on in Connecticut. And I've been helping teachers and other folks in the school, think about ways to reach out to students who seem particularly affected.
NNAMDIWere there any students still unaware of what happened in…
VIOLANot -- no, not that I've noticed. It was a strange -- I was talking with Janice before we came on here. It was a strange confluence of things on Friday. We didn't have a lot of time to address things in school on Friday. It was sort of the end of the day, and people are very much in their class period zones. But -- so there was some public acknowledgement of the situation in Connecticut at the end of our day from our school heads.
VIOLAAnd then people sort of escaped for the weekend. So there hasn't been a lot of time to actually process things in school. And of course, you're aware that students sometimes process things at their own speed differently than adults. So we're just sort of observing and pulling close together into our community and taking the day at a time.
NNAMDIDaniel Domenech, there is no historical comparison to what happened on Friday. But during your tenure as the superintendent of Fairfax Public Schools, you had to respond to other profoundly traumatic events -- the Sept. 11 attacks and the Beltway sniper. How did you respond, Dan, and how are schools responding today?
DOMENECHWell, in a very similar way, unfortunately. You would think so many years later that we would have been able to get a hold or control over situations like this but the fact that they're still occurring. And you're absolutely right. Over the last 10 years, we have seen a tremendous amount of stepping up of school security. It's very different today than it was even back after 9/11 and the sniper.
DOMENECHBut during those days, the one thing that is in common -- that we have in common is the overwhelming sense on the part of school personnel that they have this obligation to make sure that their kids are safe and secure and to make them feel -- to project that to the students so that they have a sense that they're safe and secure in that school building. And that's not easy to do, particularly at a time like this when staff themselves are wondering.
DOMENECHYou know, it used to be that being a teacher or an educator was a fairly safe profession. Now we have principals and teachers along with the children being shot in school buildings. So for staff to project that sense of safety is important to the children because the children can sense it. They can tell if staff are nervous, if their teacher is nervous, that they're not projecting a sense of, we're fine, everything is OK here, you're secured, nothing is going to happen to you. And that's critically important for children in order to be able to learn, in order to be able to feel that coming to school is a safe place.
NNAMDIJanice D'Arcy, most parents were obviously with their kids this weekend and, therefore, able to talk to them. But you point out that they're headed back to school today. What happens then?
D'ARCYYes. I think a lot of parents are now, today, losing control of the story in terms of their kids. Experts told us over the weekend, and a lot of parents follow the advice, to limit exposure, turn off the TV, to talk to their kids if they brought it up, but otherwise, especially with younger kids, to avoid the subject, to send them to school feeling safe and secure. But now, the kids walked into these schools, many of them in Fairfax, with police presence, with tensed atmospheres all around, new safety precautions.
D'ARCYMy children's school has a new curriculum of disaster preparedness drills. And then you also have, you know, a difference. Some kids are going to know about, some aren't. You have different ages mixed. So kids are going to come home today with lots of information that they didn't have when they left their house. Some of it true, some of it not, much of it disturbing. So I think the answer of how to talk to kids about this is an evolving one as kids learn more about it.
NNAMDIJamie Raskin, we can talk about the mental health aspects of this. We can talk about the school safety aspects of this. We also can talk about the availability of weapons of deadly force in this discussion. But you are also a parent. Where do you find yourself at this point in this conversation?
RASKINWell, fortunately for me, I've got older kids. They're all teenagers or above, and so, you know, I can see the advice to avoid the subject with younger kids. But, obviously, that doesn't work with bigger kids. And, you know, bigger kids rightfully want to know, what are we doing about it? What are we doing to make things safer?
RASKINI saw that there's a -- on the Web now, there's a group -- I think it's called Student Strike Against Gun Violence (sic) -- saying that if grownups don't get it together to turn things around, the students will walk out of school one day when they get, I think, a half million students participating in it. And I think that for the older kids, which is where I am now, we've got to talk about the politics of this because this was an especially bloody and shocking atrocity that we saw in Connecticut on Friday.
RASKINBut we lose 80 people every single day to gunfire in America to homicides, you know, domestic violence, accidence, suicide. And we've had lots of atrocities like this take place in schools, in Columbine. We've had it take place in movie theaters. And so, you know, I'm glad that we're mobilizing the psychologists and the people to help the kids, but grownups can't avoid the subject. Grownups have got to look seriously about what's going on politically in the country that allows the slaughter to continue in public places and in our schools.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the reaction to the tragedy that took place over the weekend in Newtown, Conn., and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. If you have young children, how did you talk to them about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting? 800-433-8850. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Joe, we know kids of different ages, as Jamie just pointed out, process things differently. How should parents talk to very young kids, if at all, about something like this?
VIOLAWell, it's a good question. There really is, as you say, no universal timetable, I think, for people to feel the impact of this, particularly for very young children. I guess the first thing that I would say if you have a pre-school age child or a very young child is try to get some sense of whether or not they're even seeking information. I think sometimes adults assume that if there's something that's on their mind or if there's something that's particularly impactful for them that it's automatically on their child's mind.
VIOLAAnd I'm not sure that that's always the case. Sometimes, as a few people have said already, these things take a few days to sort of properly absorb. But with a very small child, I think it's only natural for them to become preoccupied with their own safety, right? So this term has come up a few times already. And I think one of the main things that you can do is sort of determine a very specific or precise source of their fear, you know, reassure them that they are safe and that you're going to do everything in your power to keep them safe.
VIOLAAnd that the people around them that care for them in and out of the home will do the same. And then, you know, of course, with a very young child, a lot of what you learn about how they are feeling on a very sensitive issue like this is through their play. A lot of times, they don't have the words to express how they're feeling like an adult might.
VIOLASo I think it's important to realize that a child might engage in play that seems more violent than usual, and that could be a healthy thing, right? That might be their way of expressing something that's going on inside of them in reaction to the events of Newtown. Above all, you know, the things that we sort of trust to the most as parents caring, connection, being available to them, are, really, things that you can't go wrong by, though.
NNAMDIDaniel Domenech, is there also now a greater sense of urgency on the part of parents whose responsibility, I guess, is to try to understand what are the security systems at the particular school your child is attending so that you can be on the same page as the administration of that school?
DOMENECHAbsolutely. And, you know, it's unfortunate that if we have a meeting for the parents to come to the school to review the new security and safety procedures for the schools, you'll get a handful of folks that will turn out. I'm sure that today, if such a meeting were to take place, everybody would turn out.
DOMENECHBut the reality is that it's very important for parents to be very much aware of what those procedures are, so that when -- if something does happen, they can deal with it and not be asking questions, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to go pick up the kids? The school is locked down. Does that mean that I go get the kids? No. That means you don't. You stay home.
DOMENECHSo schools -- because of all of the events that have taken place over the last decade, just about -- I can't imagine that there's a school in America that does not have emergency and safety procedures in place. But it -- the staff certainly are aware of the procedures. The students are because they're drilled in terms of the procedure, but the parents need to be aware as well. And they shouldn't wait for the disaster to happen. They should do it now.
NNAMDIJanice, we're hearing a lot about this tragedy restarting gun control debates, and we'll be talking a little more about that in this broadcast. But you see another possible reaction from some parents, particularly women looking for more workplace flexibility.
D'ARCYYes. This weekend, certainly, we talked about tipping points and gun control, mental health reform. I think we might see this secondary tipping point in terms of not just women but working parents, how they're approaching work in careerism. I had so many conversations this weekend with other parents about decisions to take a step back. You know, Joe just mentioned this idea that one of the best things we can do now is to be available to our kids. And I think that this had a real impact on people.
D'ARCYThey said that -- a few different people I talked to said they gained the perspective about how they wanted to be more present for their kids. I had this one conversation with a woman who's a lawyer, who told me she had been considering it already, but she is now going to take herself off the partner track. Two fathers who I had dinner with this weekend happened to be on work travel when they heard about it on Friday, and they both talked about how they desperately wanted to be home and how in the future they might limit that.
D'ARCYNow, this comes a few weeks after that horrible nanny killing in New York, and that nanny killing, for parents, particularly working parents and for many mothers, had a real visceral effect, where they were terrified to leave your young kids at home after that. And now this comes on top of it. I think you might see some changes in terms of the have-it-all conversation. I think it might be a conversation...
NNAMDIReacting to a tragedy, that's what we're talking about this hour. 800-433-8850. We're going to take a short break. A lot of you have called. If the phone lines are busy, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, or simply send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask your question or make your comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We are talking about reactions in this area to the tragedy over the weekend in Newtown, Conn. We're talking with Daniel Domenech. He is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He's former superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. Janice D'Arcy is a reporter in the "On Parenting" blogger at The Washington Post. Joe Viola is an educational psychologist at St. Albans School. He's also a professor in The George Washington University Professional Psychology Program.
NNAMDIAnd Jamin Raskin is a member of the Maryland State Senate and a professor of Law at American University's Washington College of Law. Jamin, polls show that in the last 20 years, Americans have become less interested in passing new gun control laws and that even deadly rampages like the ones on the Virginia Tech campus and the one in Aurora, Colo. movie theater don't really change that.
RASKINAnd people feel it's hopeless because of the deadlock in Washington, which we see across a whole range of subjects. And in truth, if we're going to be honest about it, a majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives are A-rated by the National Rifle Association, which means that they've basically sworn an oath to go down the line with the NRA on whatever they say. So I think people are exhausted by the subject.
RASKINAnd the only possible good that come out of a nightmare atrocity, like what we saw in Newtown, Conn., is a renewed determination to pass reasonable gun restrictions that are consistent with the Second Amendment that truly improve public safety. And I'm determined to do that however I can in Maryland, and I'm getting the sense that around the country, there are people willing to do that. Even if Congress can't act because of the strength or hold of the NRA, a lot states can do something.
NNAMDIWell, we read and saw a report by one congressman who is calling for the NRA to sit at the table with all of the other interested parties in this discussion and arrive at a solution. I don't know if you have tried conversing with the NRA before. But if you have, what's been the result of it?
RASKINWell, you know, their position has been to give not one inch, no quarter at all. Their position is we've got the laws that we need and enforce those. The problem there is that those laws also bear the unmistakable imprint of the NRA and are essentially lax and ineffectual. For example, I'm very interested in the question of gun dealers, and most gun dealers are law-abiding and do the right thing.
RASKINBut there's a relative handful of very apples who will sell guns to criminals, who will sell guns under the table, who will sells guns to people who are legally not supposed to be getting guns, and yet it's extremely difficult for the ATF to go after these people. They are outmaneuvered and under-resourced. And I've read statistics that dealers face audits essentially by the ATF every 15 or 20 years. So it's extremely difficult for them to go after these people.
RASKINAnd when they do, for example, there was one dealer from Baltimore County who was "losing" hundreds of firearms, and it took basically a decade finally to revoke his license. And then he was able to essentially keep the family business going by transferring everything to someone else in his family. And so that's part of the legislation that we want to pass in Maryland is to make sure that people whose licenses are revoked are kept out.
RASKINBut we also want to make sure that the Maryland State Police have the same authority that the ATF has to go after gun dealers that are doing the wrong thing because right now, it's all federal, and the state doesn't have that power. The NRA fought us on this last time, but I'm hoping that we will be able to get it through in the 2013 session. And that's legislation that is being spearheaded by my colleague Sen. Frosh.
RASKINBut we've been on this for many years, you know, we introduced the assault weapon ban back in 2007. We did it in 2010, and the NRA has basically said, we don't want any new legislation. And the politicians are intimidated by it. They're intimidated by the political power and the money, and I think some of them are, frankly, just scared even to get involved in the whole field of gun regulation because crazy things happen.
NNAMDIWell, the alternative with our schools, Dan Domenech, is that we have the instinct then to make our schools more secure. President Obama referred to schools and teachers as the people we entrust our kids to every day. But schools are also community institutions that need to stay open in some capacity. How do you balance the need to protect our kids and the feeling of urgency we have with the imperative of keeping these institutions open?
DOMENECHWell, that's the question, the balance, you know, back in 2000 -- when I was a superintendent in Fairfax in '02 and we had the sniper crises. One of the things that we did -- because if you will recall, this went on for weeks, so one of the things that we did is we basically locked down all the schools during the school day that children came to school. And they stayed in the school. They were not allowed to go out into the playground.
DOMENECHAll outside activities were canceled. Sports, they couldn't play. They had to whatever they could do inside the gymnasium. Well, this went on for about three weeks. And then I started to get a tremendous amount of pressure from parents who wanted their kids out and who wanted their children to play and, you know, participate -- the footballs, the seniors in high school, you know, where scholarships were on the line in terms of their ability to play.
DOMENECHSo even with this still going on, there was all of a sudden this pushback in terms of what we were doing, which was obviously the only thing we could do at that point, if you will recall. We had a -- in Maryland, we had a child who was shot in front of their -- the middle school, and we had had somebody shot in Fairfax as well.
DOMENECHSo the question is, do we turn our schools into prisons where you have metal detectors and you have bars in the windows and you have to show ID to get in or get out, which is not going to work? But if we allow our -- and there has to be a certain -- reasonable amount of security, but Sandy Hook had that kind of security.
RASKINThey did everything they could do.
DOMENECHThey had just implemented that. The school was locked, but the man broke in to the school with a rifle and proceeded to mow down anybody that stood in their way. That would've been true if there had been an armed security guard in the school. So the problem is that we have to balance. We certainly have to be more secure than we have been. But we have to be careful that we don't turn our schools into prisons.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here now is Katrina in Columbia, Md. Katrina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Katrina. Are you there? Can you hear me? Katrina.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.
KATRINAOK. What's bothering me about this issue is that it seems that the focus is on the mentally ill when I'm thinking it's a mindset problem, and I'd really like to hear more discussion about that because what's the difference between this horrible accident that's happened in Connecticut and other serial killers? And I also think it's interesting, the demographics of most of these shooters to be young, white males, and I just don't hear enough conversation about that.
KATRINAIn the Colorado shooting that occurred in the movie theater, that person, the killer, had been collecting ammunition and guns and planning this for months before he actually executed it, so it wasn't just a psychotic break of something happening. He had a bad day and just went out. This was methodical planning that occurred then killing people.
KATRINASo I would like to hear more about that.
NNAMDIJoe Viola, this is the time when we all find ourselves dabbling in psychology as we try to figure out exactly what could possibly have motivated this kind of action. What's the best advice you can give to somebody like Katrina?
VIOLAThat's a really tough question. I think it's wrapped up in so many different layers of social and political feelings. I don't know. I think that -- I find the language she used, mindset problem, to be an interesting choice of words. Obviously, a lot of the recent experience with shooters and people who have been in the news for these instances as in Aurora and things like that have been identified as having some very painful element of their past.
VIOLAAnd when you sort of add on to that the very real problem of having access to and familiarity with firearms, it becomes a pretty charged topic. One of the things that comes to mind for me, frankly, is just how complex it is to try to identify people who are in this great amount of pain at such an early age. You know, we're sort of learning a little bit every day more and more about this particular person in Newtown who exercised a lot of anger and seemingly revenge toward his family and others on a very small and -- on a very small community.
VIOLABut for me, I think, for those of us that are in the schools, it raises the issue of being vigilant and communicative with each other about people that we see that are in need and helping connect them with appropriate resources early on.
RASKINWell, first of all, the mental health infrastructure has definitely suffered a lot of erosion over the last generation. And one of the things that, again, positive that might arise from this catastrophe is a recommitment to making certain that we've got complete mental health services out there especially for children so we can identify problems and intervene quickly. Having said that, obviously, a very tiny fraction of people with mental health problems end up doing something insane like this.
RASKINAnd as the caller points out, there are lots of people who are not mentally ill who are going out and doing this. There are mental illness problems all over the world, but it's the combination of mental illness problems, in certain cases, with the easy availability of extraordinary firepower that creates the danger in the United States and the extraordinary death toll that we've got in America.
RASKINSo we've got to deal with the gun problem, and I agree that we don't want this whole debate to be sidelined into just a discussion of people who are having mental health problems because the guns are a danger quite apart from that. And so, you know, we got to do both things at, you know, at the same time. And there are certainly lots of gaping loopholes in our gun laws that we need to zero in on.
NNAMDIProbably a little more difficult than walking and chewing gum at the same time, however. Angela -- here's Janice D'Arcy, first.
D'ARCYI just want to jump in on there. People may be aware, but on the same day, in China, there was a school attacked by a mentally ill person. He attacked 22 school children, and no one was killed. He used a knife. There were, you know, two injuries that were bad. So that's -- the mental ill -- mentally -- mental health treatment reform is definitely a piece of this, but I think you cannot take out the gun violence.
NNAMDIThe access to deadly force. Here is Angela in Silver Spring. Angela, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANGELAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. First of all, I disagree. I think it's absolutely able to identify kids in our community, and I can think of one in my community who I know guns are in the house, who we've made schools aware that he has issues. But how do you reach out to him? There are no systems in place to help this child.
ANGELAAnd do I think that he could potentially hurt himself and others? Absolutely positively. But I don't know this family, and I can't ingratiate myself into their life. And we've reached out to the schools, and their hands are tied. Al we hear is we're doing everything we can. We're doing everything we can and nothing happens.
NNAMDIDan Domenech, what can a school system do in a situation like that where they're getting complaints from people about the possible violent tendencies of a young student?
DOMENECHWell, there are a lot of things the schools do right now. They certainly are aware of the issues, and they certainly bring in the counselors and psychologists and other folks to bear. They bring the parents into it. But then you run smack into the privacy issues and right issues, and that's where the problem comes in. Beyond just being aware of the issue and so you're now aware of this problem and the potential there. But there's very little that you can do. There's very little the police can do.
DOMENECHYou know, sometimes we're frustrated by the fact that, you know, police will tell you, well, we can't do anything until the crime is committed. And it's pretty much the same in the schools. You may be aware of the situation. You can take al of the precautions that you want to take. But until such time as there is a violation or a crime is committed, there's very little that the agencies or the legal authorities can do to intervene.
NNAMDIAngela, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Peggy in Olney, Md. Peggy, your turn.
PEGGYHey, Kojo. I think their taking assault weapons out of our communities is a no-brainer. But in terms of the security at the schools, we tend to take better care of our stuff if you had a gun at a bank or any other place where there were things of value. You would have their attention as you enter their perimeter. I think our school safety needs to start there at the perimeter with the mindset that we do have very, very, very valuable things inside. These are our children.
NNAMDISecurity needs to start at the perimeter, Dan Domenech.
DOMENECHWell, as far as I'm aware, I think that guns are illegal in any school. You are not allowed to bring weapons in to a school even in those days that allow for weapons to be carried. But here, again, we get into the situation, how does a school patrol or control a situation, let's say, in the parking lot where you're not aware that somebody has a gun in their vehicle, unless something were to happen?
DOMENECHAnd that has happened, by the way, where there has been reason to search a student's car, usually related to drugs, and in the search you encounter a weapon, and then action can be taken. But unless there's a reason for a legal search to take place, you can't do it.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Kevin. Thank you very much for your call, Peggy. Kevin writes, "Those who wrote the Second Amendment had in mind the kind of guns available in 1780, not the AR-15 assault rifles available today. We should ban assault weapons." Jamie, you're a constitutional law professor. How do you read the Second Amendment, especially in relation to an individual's right to have assault weapons and the types of rapid-fire weapons that are often used in these mass shootings?
RASKINWell, I agree with the sphere of that message. And, you know, there is a myth out there that somehow the Supreme Court in the Heller decision, which struck down the handgun control measure in the District of Columbia, somehow invalidated all gun measures and makes it impossible for us to act. And I don't think that that's true at all. Essentially, the Supreme Court has said that you have a right to possess guns both for militia service, which is National Guard service today, also for self-protection in the home.
RASKINAnd so that the categorical handgun ban in D.C. went too far. And also for legitimate recreational uses. But here's the question that's posed by this catastrophe to America right now. If you can have a handgun by your bedside to protect yourself and your family, and if you can have access to a rifle for hunting, and if you can have military weaponry if you participate in the militia, in the National Guard, why, if you're not participating in the militia, do you need to have semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons? Why do you need an AK-47?
RASKINThe killer in Connecticut was carrying this, as far as I understand, a Bushmaster semi-automatic weapon, which is a military gun. There is no reason for American citizens who are not in the military to be carrying those around either for self-protection or for recreational uses. It's just insane that we allow that to go on.
RASKINWe had a ban for 10 years of assault weapons, starting in 1994, and it's sunset. It came up in 2004, and Congress has not been able to get it passed again. Congress should absolutely do it, and if it doesn't, we should go state by state to ban the military assault weapons just to begin the conversation of restoring some balance to this whole discussion that has been distorted by the political power of the so-called gun lobby.
NNAMDIHere is Cathy in Fairfax, Va. Cathy, your turn.
CATHYThank you for taking my call. As I'm listening to all of this, I can't help but think that we've now got an additional war on terror here in our own country, aside from the one we've been fighting for the last 10 years or so. But I'm listening to all of this, and I'm frustrated because I hear a lot of we should do this, we need to do this, if we did this.
CATHYBut I want to hear how we do it. I want to hear -- and I know we're discussing a lot of different aspects, but it's like the action doesn't come. There's just discussion and discussion and discussion, but when does it turn into action, and how do we make it turn into action as citizens?
NNAMDIThere's a certain level of impatience that is completely understandable, Jamie Raskin, Janice D'Arcy. People want action and want action now. But, well, this is Washington, isn't it, or we're talking about Annapolis, isn't it? We're talking about a legislative process that invariably is going to take some time.
RASKINWell, yeah, democracy requires discussion, and there are complicated issues here. But I'm with the caller. I'm very impatient. I mean, I've been on these bills. Ever since I got elected to the Maryland State Senate back in 2007, I've been pushing this stuff along with a number of other senators who I know are equally frustrated, and members of the House as well.
RASKINI think we have to maintain the level of impatience and indignation that we heard in that caller's voice until we make the laws happen. What happens, Kojo, is we get the Columbine massacre, we get the Virginia Tech massacre, we get the Newtown massacre, and it's in the news for a few days, and then we're off to talk about the fiscal cliff or something else. This is the ethical cliff. This is the moral cliff for America.
RASKINAre we going to turn our heads once again and pretend like there's no problem, or are we going to face the reality that so many families across America now have to live with as a nightmare for the rest of their lives? And I think we can only begin to do justice to these people by saying, we will commit ourselves to make sure that it never happens again.
NNAMDICathy, thank you very much for your call. Dan Domenech, WAMU News' Armando Trull reported today that, from Fairfax County, that police have been stationed at every school. It's obviously a highly visible gesture. But, A, what is it intended to achieve? How long can it really last?
DOMENECHWell, in Fairfax, we're fortunate, actually, that we have police presence at the secondary schools every day. We have school resource officers that for years have been really almost part of that staff. They're Fairfax County police officers there. And by the way, that really has a great effect. Seeing that police car parked in front of a building all the time, seeing a uniformed armed police officer walking the hallways, from a preventive perspective, it's great. But your point exactly is, you know, this happened at an elementary school. We don't have SRA officers at the elementary level.
DOMENECHHow long can that be the case? Well, the reality is that, right now, after an event like this happens, that's when students are nervous, that's when parents are nervous and that's when they want to see something visibly that is going to make them feel safe and secure. So it's the right thing to do at this point. Probably within a period of a couple of weeks, the police won't be able to sustain that level of involvement, but right now it's the right thing to do.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, more of your questions and comments for our guests. The phone lines are tied up, so you might want to communicate with us by email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. In the wake of the weekend tragedy in Newtown, Conn., we're talking about local reactions with Jamie Raskin. He's a member of the Maryland State Senate and a professor of law at American University's Washington College of Law. Joe Viola is an educational psychologist at St. Albans School and a professor in the George Washington University Professional Psychology Program.
NNAMDIJanice D'Arcy is a reporter and the "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post. And Daniel Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators and a former superintendent in Fairfax County Public Schools. Janice D'Arcy, when we took that break, we were talking about the police presence at Fairfax County Public Schools and the effect that that might have visually on people coming to the school. But there may be a difference in how parents, on the one hand, see it and how students, on the other hand, see it.
D'ARCYIn The Post today, we had some child trauma experts talking about how the police presence will reassure parents, but it might increase the anxiety level of kids and teachers, reminding them of what happened. So, Joe, you might want to talk more about that.
VIOLAYeah. No, what comes to mind for me is that, for one, I understand and can appreciate the lengths to which the schools are going to keep the -- their environment safe. I do think that sometimes that kind of response by the school can raise the anxiety of a kid.
VIOLABut on the flip side, what it might do is help identify kids who might be more vulnerable to feeling anxiety or becoming more fearful of that presence and actually sort of pull them out and get them into the right caregivers' hands quicker than usual. So that was one thing that came to mind, but I do think you're right that it's certainly an issue.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Brian in Arlington, Va. Hi, Brian.
BRIANHi, Kojo. Can you hear me?
BRIANGreat. Great show. I'm going to make a quick comment and then go offline. It's just a suggestion or thought. I don't know if this is even possible, but, well, a lot of the discussion this morning, which is very interesting, as usual, regarding gun control.
BRIANIs there a way that guns, as technologically advanced as society is, and as technologically advanced as weapons are, is it possible to modify weapons, any weapon, all weapons, such that there's a chip of some sort that must be -- that can be deactivated via radio frequency, radio wave, what have you, and the power to turn off the frequency that would allow weapons to operate is embedded in places like schools, like banks and like everywhere else where there shouldn't be an automatic assault weapon? Just a thought...
NNAMDII think you are somewhat ahead of both being digital and the technology curve at this point. But it's an interesting thought, isn't it, Jamie Raskin?
RASKINI mean, it's a fascinating thought. Maybe you could have your digital experts...
RASKIN...come talk about it on Tuesday. I mean, you know, we -- given the fact that there are more than 300 million firearms at large in the country, you know, nobody should be deceived into thinking that there's any panacea out there with laws. I mean, what we're trying to do is just move things in the right direction, and we're hoping to deprive some people who would commit a mass murder of the weapon that they could use to do it.
RASKINBut if there are technological fixes like that, then, you know, I'm all ears. And, you know, we have to move the NRA and the politicians who have been supporting them to a posture of at least acknowledging that America has a dramatic gun problem that's different than anything else anywhere in the world. And we have to figure out some means whether it's legislatively, politically or technologically to deal with it.
VIOLAYou know, I could appreciate the question, too. I just want to jump in.
VIOLAI would -- I'm just fascinated by where the question is coming from. I mean, you know, just the fact that we're at this point now that, you know, we're -- we have this culture of violence and in some way a culture of acceptance that we -- I mean, a wonderfully creative idea in question that I'm way out -- I have no idea how to comment on it technologically speaking. But just the fact that we're sort of evolving to this place where we're, you know, sort of accepting a lot of these issues.
VIOLAAnd so I think about even Cathy's call earlier, her level of frustration that she shared. I share that frustration. When you're looking for very practical responses to these very difficult questions, I guess I would just like to say, I hope that it would start in the home, you know, one of the things that we do have control over the people that we're closest to.
VIOLAAnd there are lot of ways to think about the ways in which kids exercise fantasy about violence through technology and other things. But just sort of pulling it all together the -- to this last caller, the impossibility of this culture of violence is not something we're going to solve right away, but it's frustrating for sure.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Brian. Here is Judith in Fairfax, Va., who seems to feel we need to be looking at other things. Judith, your turn.
JUDITHYes. I question the utility of all the emphasis on regulatory six 'cause even though I am a strong advocate for gun control, given the prevalence of guns in our society already where, you know, Uncle Joe has one or mom has one, so they're readily available, plus the problems of uniformity and the problems on the Hill of getting any federal regulation.
JUDITHSo my sense is that the paradigm needs to be changed, and people need to start thinking about doing something like what's done about smoking where we had a federal long-term widespread campaign to re-educate people, on this case, about guns and gun violence and perhaps target those to different populations like inner city, you know, hunting culture out in the country, that sort of thing, and trying to change how people think about guns and having them and this culture that one of your guests was just talking about, to change the culture.
NNAMDIWell, what you seem to be suggesting is that we approach this as a help that you in much the same way as we approach smoking in which the tobacco industry was interested in continuing to advocate smoking in much the same way as the gun manufacturing industry is -- would like to continue to do that. Do you think, Jamin, that there can be the same kind of push back on guns that there was on tobacco?
RASKINYes. You know, what you're referring to, of course, is the state attorney generals getting together in suing the tobacco industry for essentially lying about what they knew about the public health effects of tobacco and then holding them accountable for the results of that. And I think that the exact same kinds of tort liability lawsuits are indicated by what's taking place with the gun industry, which, after all, is huge big business in America, and this is a money-making proposition for them.
RASKINAnd you only have to look at the money that's invested in the politicians and the campaigns to know how seriously they take the political process. Now, they have engineered the laws in such ways to make it very difficult to sue them, so we're going to have to take it on. But the right way of thinking about firearms is the way we think about automobiles, which is we don't just say anybody can go buy an automobile and start driving it.
RASKINYou need to be licensed. You need to prove that you know the laws and rules and around it. You need to prove that you know how to navigate it and negotiate it and maintain the public safety as you use it. And that's the way that we should be thinking about firearms rather than it's something like free speech where everybody can just speak. It's not like that. It is a dangerous technological invention.
D'ARCYOne problem with that idea though of any sort of government approach on this as so many gun enthusiasts see the government, particularly the federal government, as the enemy here.
NNAMDIAllow me to read what we got in an email from Chris, "I am the gun lobby," Chris says, "borrowing from Jeff Knox. Let me also make something perfectly clear. The National Rifle Association is not the gun lobby. I am the gun lobby. Whenever you talked about the gun lobby, you are talking about me.
NNAMDI"My power comes from the fact that I am one of many who understand that individuals have the right and the obligation to protect themselves from criminal assault and that no one, not the government, not the media, nor anyone else has the right to decide what, when, where or how I responsibly exercise that right and obligation. I am just one of tens of millions who compromise the gun lobby. And I am not going away, I'm not backing down, and I'm not giving in, not one little bit."
RASKINWell, there we go. But what would I say to him is I don't disagree with that. He's got the right to defend himself. But does he need an AK-47 to defend himself? Does he need nuclear weapons? I mean, is -- when you look at what happened in Connecticut, is that really a social price that we're willing to pay so that, you know, someone can have a handgun beside their bed? I don't -- I think that we can defend reasonable Second Amendment rights the way we defend reasonable rights across the Bill of Rights without sacrificing public safety and our children in the process.
NNAMDIHere now is Carlton in Washington, D.C. Carlton, your turn.
CARLTONThank you, Kojo, for taking my call.
CARLTONThank you. What I wanted to call about was I wanted to challenge the earlier guest's assertion that adding extra security like ID cards and maybe guards and whatever else would turn our schools into prisons. If you take a look at how federal buildings are guarded, how private industry, corporations have ID cards and guards and you look at how our U.S. industries are guarded, they're not prisons, you know? And I think by characterizing -- making that statement, you are -- you're going to try to -- excuse me...
NNAMDIHow do you, Dan Domenech, since we're running out of time, provide more security if that's what we would like to do at our schools without giving our children the impression that they are entering facilities that are intended to imprison rather than educate them?
DOMENECHWell, you know, right now, the reality is that we do have ID cards. And the reality is that schools are locked and that there usually just the one entry way, and that those individuals coming in are confronted and asked to identify themselves and the reason why that they were there. So we're pretty much are doing the same thing that federal buildings are doing. There are some schools that even have the metal detectors in place.
RASKINTechnology offers, you know, there are the chips now that can be embedded in ID cards that actually allow you to track where students are at or similar to what was being proposed by -- for a gun. If an individual walks into school without that particular chip, they know that they don't belong there. So there are lot of things that are -- that technology now offers that are already being employed.
RASKINSo the schools are much more secured today. All of these things are already being done. What we're talking about is having on guards. What we're talking about is having iron bars and walls around the schools that really prevent access to and from the school. Those are the kinds of measures I think that we'd be looking at next if we wanted to provide greater amount of security.
NNAMDICarlton, thank you very much for your call. That's all the time we have. Daniel Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He's former superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. Janice D'Arcy is a reporter and "On Parenting" blogger with The Washington Post.
NNAMDIJoe Viola is an educational psychologist at St. Albans School and a professor in the George Washington University Professional Psychology Program. And Jamie Raskin is a member of the Maryland State Senate and a professor of law at American University's Washington College of Law. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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