School Safety and Community Safety - A Message from OCCD President Paul Herdeg

By Paul Herdeg

March 26, 2018

The tragic deaths of 14 students and 3 staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are still fresh in our minds.  As I write this message to OCCD members, thousands of students, teachers, and parents are marching in downtown Cleveland to show their concern and press for actions to make our schools safer.  Hundreds of thousands are rallying in other cities across the United States.  Clearly safety in our schools is a matter of great public concern.  The numbers are sobering to consider - the Washington Post reported on February 15th that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

Beyond our schools, violence and perceptions of lack of safety in our communities pose a serious problem for us as community and economic development practitioners.  A 2016 report by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research found that exposure to violent crime damages the health and development of victims, family members, and entire communities.  Low-income people and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected.

There are no easy answers to making our schools and communities safer.  We know that deadly weapons should not be in the hands of mentally ill persons, sociopathic criminals, and terrorists.  People of good will can disagree about how we should reduce this risk.  The 2016 HUD study found that strong social organization, youth job opportunities, and residential stability are among several neighborhood characteristics associated with lower rates of violent crimes.

I believe that school and community safety are issues we should discuss, and that OCCD members have important information to share on how we are dealing with these issues.  For this reason, I welcome and encourage discussion of these issues during the “round table” time set aside in OCCD’s upcoming Spring Quarterly Meeting.  I hope this will lead to further work and appropriate advocacy to support measures that OCCD members agree can help improve safety.

One point of view is that powerful military-style weapons are too easily obtained and should be more closely regulated.  OCCD does not have any position on this issue.  I would like to ask members to consider the following comments, which are the personal opinions of our long-time supporter and friend, Jack Riordan, as a starting point for open and productive discussion:


The Old Lady with Cats and the Second Amendment

When I stopped by to see her, she said, “The door is open.”

Minerva was bent over a great old book with an equally old magnifying glass.

“Look at this! There is a qualifying clause. ‘A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’”.

“We have ignored the first half of the Second Amendment, ‘the right to keep and bear arms’ is tied to a well-regulated militia, which is a body of citizens organized for military service.  This communal aspect of the Second Amendment and the clause ‘well regulated’ are totally ignored today.”

I have not owned a gun since I left Vietnam, but many of my friends and family have guns for sport and protection; some are members of NRA, but they are not bad people.  Like most of us, I hadn’t thought about the Second Amendment rights until so many children and unarmed civilians were killed by AR15s.  AR 15s and other semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazine are military weapons for rapid fire in combat.  I respect the right to own guns and the fear that someone will take their guns away, but a poorly regulated right is a threat to the safety of others. We need to understand the fears of both sides and seek through dialog a compromised position.  All of us on the many sides of this issue need to follow the example of the kids in high schools across this country who are making their voices heard. 

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