Stopping future violence is up to us

Published: Saturday, Dec. 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Why should we wait for more mass killings? We should put our resources at the front rather than the back end. We now spend our resources on "acting out" children while the "quiet" kids are neglected. Why is it that a youth does not get counseling, help or a job until he or she commits a crime or attempts suicide?

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When it comes to having safe schools, maybe we could have our children do what a TV ad shows — antelopes armed with night-vision goggles so they can defend themselves from Carl, the stalking lion.

Silly, but equally silly is arming children with bullet proof backpacks, bullet proof vests or having teachers packing heat. Americans are great at coming up with quick so-called "solutions" on how to solve problems after they happen. Years ago, experts were predicting youth crime would change from stolen property and status offenses to more serious crimes — violence and assault. They also warned we should not place all our preventive efforts on the "juvenile delinquent," but also on the "crime." For example, one of the greatest breakthroughs in reducing auto theft among 15-17 year old youths occurred in 1973, not because of any great breakthrough in youth therapy, but because steering column locks were mandated on new cars.

When it comes to reducing mass killings, we should do the same: identify early on the individuals who show aberrant behavior and provide help for them, and focus on the crime by banning the use of assault weapons. That won't stop all the killings, but it may well reduce the growing number of mass killings.

Why should we wait for more mass killings? We should put our resources at the front rather than the back end. We now spend our resources on "acting out" children while the "quiet" kids are neglected. Why is it that a youth does not get counseling, help or a job until he or she commits a crime or attempts suicide?

We don't know all the causes of aberrant behavior. What we do know is that all children have basic needs, whether they are rich, poor, delinquent or mentally ill; and we should design our services around basic human needs not on symptoms or what is administratively convenient. Why wait until they are adults before we try to help or incarcerate them? Educators are the first to see the signs of troubled children when they start school, and can see how they are different than other children; yet, teachers hesitate to say anything for a variety of reasons. Besides, where can they refer parents to get help for their children? Now, we wait for them to commit a criminal act then they get help, go to court or go to jail. It doesn't make sense.

We can no longer wait for weak leaders who hide behind wanting more studies and then do nothing. Just as we mourn collectively with those who lost their loved ones to senseless killings, as a community we must act. It starts with helping teachers who first see children in a social environment to have resources where they can guide parents who have a troubled child to get the help they need; restructure community resources that focus on healthy development of children rather than on outward bad behavior; and involve volunteers who understand the problem and are eager to help our children.

In the end it's not one single cause — guns, mental illness, movies, games — for the violence and senseless killings in our society; rather it's that we have allowed the "numbing" of values so vital to a free society and have elected leaders who lack the courage to act. If we want a free society, it's up to us as a community to return to the values that have kept us free.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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