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Anthony Lock & Safe

Anthony Lock & Safe

The Greece Central School District is installing a buzzer entry system at all of its schools. A notice on the district website says:

In December, following the tragedy in Newtown, CT, Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams reaffirmed the Greece Central School District’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students. As part of that commitment, she called for the installation of new entry buzzer systems at every district school.

Installation began this week and will continue throughout the month. Once the systems are operational, visitors may be required to ring the buzzer upon arrival. School staff members will be able to monitor entry doors via camera and intercom and will ask guests their name and the nature of their visit.

Somehow, the Greece Central School District managed to get by for the last 85 years without buzzing people in. We need to ask ourselves if these kinds of safety measures actually make us safer or just make us feel better. The statistical odds of a child dying in a school shooting are at least 1 in 1 million. The odds of being killed in a car accident this year are about 1 in 6,500. I have a feeling many of us worry a lot more about school shootings than driving little Suzy to school.

Furthermore, linking the installation of a new buzzer system to Newtown is fundamentally flawed, since the gunman in that tragedy forced his way into the building.

As for sign-in procedures, I don’t understand their role in safety. I’m assuming a sign-in list is supposed to help authorities identify a visitor who goes nuts. If a person is going to shoot up a school, will he really pause to sign his name first?

Greece is far from alone in beefing up security since Newtown. Many schools already had buzzers. These measures don’t hurt anyone, although they do cost money and could instill adult paranoia in kids. But it’s important to remember schools are now – and always have been – among the safest places for children.

“I still have to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down & do what I like doing best – killing people.”

– William Spengler’s suicide note

William SpenglerSomehow, William Spengler got his hands on several guns, including a Bushmaster .223, the same one used to slaughter a classroom of children in Newtown, Connecticut. On Christmas Eve, Spengler took up a combat position and shot four firefighters sniper-style as they responded to a fire he set as a trap.

Two firefighters died. Two were gravely wounded. Seven homes burned down. Seven more were damaged. Spengler’s sister is missing. The remains of Spengler’s sister were found in their burned home.

This is an enormous tragedy. While some would prefer we not focus on Spengler, we have to look at what he did and how he did it to make sure this never happens again. He may have been a lone madman, but he’d killed before and was still able to obtain weapons.

Spengler, who did 17 years behind bars for bludgeoning his grandmother to death, led a quiet life since exiting prison in 1998. He was freed from parole supervision in 2006. Experts say you can’t predict who will be the next mass shooter. But this case is a little different because Spengler was already a killer. It’s easy to say he should never have been released, but we would need to see records examined by the parole board. For example, was Spengler diagnosed with a mental illness while in jail? Did the criminal justice system fail society by not properly monitoring him to make sure he took medication and received treatment?

Even if Spengler was a sick man, he could not have ambushed four men without guns. The Webster police chief said, as an ex-con, it was illegal for Spengler to have weapons. Did Spengler steal the guns? Did he buy them on the street? Did they belong to family members? Did he buy them in another state without as many restrictions?

The Webster police chief brought up the fact there have been a number of recent gun larcenies in the area. The one in Sodus is an example.  ATF statistics show 74,000 guns were reported stolen by licensed firearms dealers in the U.S. between 2008-2010. New York dealers accounted for 3,666 stolen guns during that time.

Gun thefts from legal owners also play a big role in gun crimes. The ATF’s 2009 gun trace report for the Rochester region shows nearly half of crime guns were legally purchased in New York and took three years or more to end up as crime guns. The ATF considers two years or less to be a sign of illegal trafficking, indicating Rochester criminals are getting guns through other means, including stealing from houses, cars and family members. Firearm thefts and the lack of responsible gun ownership are reasons I believe we all bear responsibility for shootings. As the investigation unfolds, I hope police tell us how Spengler obtained his weapons.

393035_10151393021211081_1265146095_nI think we can have these discussions as we heal our broken hearts. None of us will ever forget the fresh young face of Tomasz Kaczowka, the steadied experience of Mike Chiapperini and Chief Pickering’s sobs as he read their names. The brave volunteer firefighters were wonderful men, the best of our community. What happened to them was unimaginably cruel and unfair. They deserve our love and respect. We all deserve answers.

Donations to the West Webster Fire Department can be made on their website. A link should be ready to accept pledges by the end of the day.

Democrat & Chronicle front page

School busA lot of headlines this morning say people are worried about school safety following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

Let’s remember something very important: Schools are safer than ever.

It’s appropriate for principals and police to go over emergency procedures and other plans. But what changes in school safety procedures could this awful incident possibly bring about?

The Washington Post reports: 

Teaching has never been a dangerous profession, but each mass shooting changes classrooms in subtle ways. Even before Friday’s shooting, Sandy Hook adhered to the intensifying security rhythms of American education in the past two decades: More surveillance cameras. More threat codes issued over the loud speaker. More fire drills. More “high alerts” and “code reds.” Sandy Hook practiced lockdowns twice each year, once to prepare for a threat coming from outside the school and once again in case of a shooter inside the hallways.

The New York Times reports: 

Tom Boasberg, the superintendent of schools in Denver, said he had not yet determined whether to ramp up drills. “When you read the story of what happened at Sandy Hook, you realize, ‘Holy cow, they did a lot of things right,’ ” he said.

As in Newtown, Mr. Boasberg said, many schools in Denver already have intercoms, buzzers and surveillance cameras mounted at their primary doors, and voters passed a bond measure last month to raise money so all campuses could have security equipment. But he added, “We’re not going to turn our schools into police bunkers.”

We can try to plan for every imaginable scenario, but there will always be one for which we had no plan. I liked how Rochester officials not only reviewed safety plans over the weekend, but offered reassurance to the community. Like many school districts, Rochester is ready to offer support to students who have questions about the tragedy. That seems a very reasonable response.

Links of the Day:

– Workers at a Herkimer County gun plant hope they weren’t the ones who made the rifle used by Adam Lanza.

– Newtown proposed restricting firearms, but there was fierce opposition.

– It’s not social media’s fault when misinformation is spread in breaking news stories. It’s the nature of the stories – they’re chaotic. The “journalist sausage-making” used to be secret.

– Chobani is opening a massive yogurt plant in Idaho. It already has one in New York.

– Not shocking. People come fro the suburbs to buy weed at Conkey and Clifford.

– A drunk guy in Saratoga Springs tried to steal a limo full of bachelorettes. The ladies let him have it!

TabloidsI wrote about the need to talk about guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting. A lot of people think we need to talk about mental illness. I agree, but I’m not sure we should be talking about mental illness in the context of mass shootings.

The vast majority mentally ill people are not violent. They’re our friends and family members, our neighbors and our coworkers. They’re you and me. Many of us will not go through life without battling depression at some point. People often struggle in silence because of the stigma associated with battling a psychological disorder.

The media does a pretty poor job portraying mental illness. A disturbed person doesn’t typically make the news until something bad happens. They’re barricaded in a home with a gun threatening suicide. They’ve stabbed their mother to death. They’ve fondled little girls’ feet in libraries.

We assume mass murderers are mentally ill, but that may not always be the case. The Tuscon shooter has schizophrenia. The Aurora shooter’s lawyers say he has a mental illness. But some mass murderers are not mentally ill – they’re just seeking revenge. Experts simply do not know enough about the people who commit mass shootings. One researcher found no correlation between rates of mental illness and gun deaths. Experts have repeatedly said it’s hard to predict these slaughters in advance.

Here’s what we do know: Most people who are violent are not mentally ill. Only a small percentage of violence can be attributed to people with mental illness. People with severe psychiatric disorders are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

We absolutely need to talk about identifying and supporting people with mental illness. But it may not be the discussion you wanted.

I don’t own a gun. I never want to own a gun. I don’t want to live in a household with a gun. I’ve talked to too many grieving mothers and fathers to ever want anything to do with guns.

Yes, bad people kill. But we all bear responsibility for gun violence. The majority of guns used in local crimes were legally purchased in the Rochester region. They ended up on the streets through things like burglaries, car break-ins and thefts by family members who sell them on the streets for drugs. If the Livingston County Sheriff can get his guns stolen out of his car at Marketplace Mall, it can happen to anyone. The gun used to shoot Officer Anthony DiPonzio was stolen from a legal owner’s house on Avenue D.

Legal guns end up being illegal all the time – with deadly consequences. This year alone in Rochester, a couple dozen people have been shot and killed. A couple hundred more have survived shootings. The toll of gun violence on our city is devastating.

GunAmericans do have the right to own guns and a debate over that right won’t be productive. But in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, I don’t understand why anyone has a right to own weapons capable of mowing down classrooms and theaters full of people. The guns used in the Sandy Hook shooting belonged to his mother. The New York Daily News reports:

“The damage these weapons can do is just horrific,” firearms expert Ronald Scott said.

All three are highly lethal weapons manufactured for combat and to stop criminals. The semi-automatic Glock and SIG Sauer are the two most popular firearms used by law enforcement officers around the country and by private gun owners, said Scott.

The Glock, made in Austria, and the American-made SIG Sauer can fire up to five bullets a second at a velocity of 1,200 feet a second.

(Assault weapons are banned in the City of Rochester.)

We must – we have to – talk about guns. Our society is obsessed with safety and minimizing risk, but not when it comes to guns. Why not make sure no one can kill dozens of people in the blink of an eye?

Those who want to talk about gun violence are not insensitive or politicizing a tragedy. We all cried today, didn’t we? I just don’t know how we talk about this incident without talking about guns. I don’t think the discussion should be limited to stemming mass shootings, but it’s a start.

Links about the Newtown Tragedy and gun violence:

It’s important to remember schools are very safe.

– “I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be.” – Father of a student killed in a mass shooting in 1992.

An Onion piece captures the way many felt today. (Warning: Strong language.)

– The United States spends 1,000 times more on fighting terrorism than it does on gun violence, even though the latter’s toll is far higher.