Sarcasm limits ‘talk’ on violence but pros give vital insights

  • Gunnar Kuepper kept a twinkle in his eye as he laid out an overview plan for community resilience that was the highlight of the day. [Hedlund photo]

    Gunnar Kuepper kept a twinkle in his eye as he laid out an overview plan for community resilience that was the highlight of the day. [Hedlund photo]

Commentary by Patric Hedlund
Sarcasm and rhetoric threatened to sabotage the first half of an event April 13 that invited the community to talk about ways to prevent the kind of gun violence seen in Newtown, Aurora, Colombine and Virginia Tech.

The gathering to explore how to limit the recent string of savage events was held in the most civilized location offered in our mountains. The Frazier Park Library was a gracious setting in which to try to bridge the gulf of hostility that appears to be growing between those focused on limiting gun violence and those focused on limitless access to ammunition and arms with as little government involvement as possible.

The 3.5 hour event, “Let’s Talk: Guns, Violence, Safety and You,” was rescued in its second half by the useful contributions of local professional responders.

Their personal insights, experiences and expertise finally cast light rather than the usual heated rhetoric on these vital issues. The early sections of the event were dominated by comments often heard in National Rifle Association statements that tended to sidetrack the discussion from the concerns that individuals, families, schools, businesses, communities and nations are now forced to confront.

Just 48 hours after the Frazier Park forum, two aspiring murderers walked pressure-cooker bombs in backpacks through a crowd of celebrating people in Boston. The bombs were filled with explosives, nails and BBs. The blasts ripped through the bodies of spectators at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounding 170 others, 17 of them critically.

Clearly, the issue before us is not just guns. It is violence. And it is simultaneously our failure to be able to talk together to discover solutions rather than using walls of sarcasm to polarize and block respectful discussion before it can get started. There was a noticeable lack of listening in the first half of the program. Talking at rather than talking with was built into the format of the program.

Nearly all the presenters who were in the first half of the “Let’s Talk” program left before those in the second half were able to make their presentations. It is doubtful that any messages of merit were carried back to the offices of State Senator Jean Fuller or Assemblymember Shannon Grove.

Fuller’s field representative Benjamin Stark was a walking almanac of recent legislation introduced in Sacramento about guns. The majority of the measures he listed were to create greater access to concealed carry permits and less public record transparency about such permits. The charming Javier Reyes asked everyone to stand to pledge the flag and then gave an enthusiastic stump speech about Shannon Grove’s stint in U.S. military service and her
respect for gun rights.

The closest the first half came to considering solutions regarding guns was Vietnam veteran A.J. Durocher’s comment that he “doesn’t know why we really need 30 bullet magazines,” and NRA supporter Keith Burgess’ comment that perhaps making people responsible for what is done with their guns would be a step forward.

Firearms enthusiast Jay Baumler gave a history of the development of firearms, and agreed with Mel Weinstein that when the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was crafted, the “armed militias” it referred to were carrying single shot muskets.
Fernando Nieto, speaking for the El Tejon Unified School District, told about the school safety task force, the resurrection of the district’s 2007 safety plan, and the impact of staff cuts on carrying out safety drills. He left after he spoke.

The stand-out presentations were in the second half. These, again, were mainly one-way presentations rather than discussions, but they offered ideas to think about and discuss with others afterward.

True Bravery
Sarah Edwards, Ph.D. LCSW talked about mental health issues and our need as a culture to express admiration for people who show themselves to be strong enough, brave enough and responsible enough to reach out for help when they need it. She emphasized that the qualities found in people who have perpetrated horrific acts of violence are often traits that we might be aware of in ourselves, our neighbors or members of our own family—people we would not anticipate to be capable of mass violence.

Edwards mentioned the majority of perpetrators of mass shootings so far have been young white males from rural areas who felt victimized or bullied, and that they often felt they had “something to prove.” She spoke of the negative effects of some antidepressant drugs on teenagers that could lead to obsession with violence and suicide.

Johnathan Surface of Hall Ambulance Service spoke about a mass shooting in a school in Northern California near where he was working. He said that planning for every conceivable development is the foundation of preparedness for his company and the agencies with which they work, from Kern County Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, the Kern County Sheriffs Office and nearly all the high schools of the Bakersfield area.

Extreme Violence

Sheriff’s Sergeant Mark Brown spoke personally about being confronted with “extreme violence” in his career and of his willingness to use extreme violence himself in his work when it has been called for.

He provided provocative suggestions about surviving acts of violence, including a YouTube video prepared by law enforcement and federal Homeland Security sources called “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. Surviving an Active Shooter Event.” Brown said he “made my wife and adult children watch this.”

He said he noticed the sarcasm earlier in the day used by speakers quoting National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre and the belittling laughter about suggestions to use anything you can, even scissors, to fight back against an active shooter if you are trapped and cannot run or hide.

Brown said every person must decide for themselves, but that he had long ago decided “if I’m going to be shot it will be in the chest and not in the back; I won’t be shot by my own gun; and I will fight.”

He counseled every family, every business and every school to do detailed planning about what they would do if confronted by an active shooter intruder.

A Culture of Resilience
Gunnar Kuepper gave a brilliant overview of how to form an active five-part plan toward emergency management. He is the president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, Region IX (which encompasses Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Trust Territories).

Kuepper appears to be a master at sandwiching a thick layer of facts between reassuring layers of humor. He examined the proposal that every school be protected by armed guards. He briskly ran through the numbers. “Let’s see, if there are 135,000 schools with 55 million students….” Kuepper did the math, multiplying each position by 3 job slots per single guard to comply with time off and union rules. The cost quickly inflated to an absurd, but credible, projection.

He asked if people had considered the actual statistical risk of a child being hurt by an active shooter in their school.
His powerpoint said there were 12 fatal shootings in 2010, 8 in 2011 and 41 in 2012 (over half of those occurred in the single incident in Newtown last year).

“The risk for a student (pre-kindergarten to grade 12) to be fatally injured in a school shooting is 1 in 1.3 million. The odds of winning the California Super Lotto Jackpot are 1 in 18 million. The odds of being killed by lightening are 1 in 2 million. And the risk of a student (pre-kindergarten to grade 12) to be fatally injured in a traffic accident on the drive to or from school is 1 in 60,000.”

Kuepper’s recipe for “Creating a Culture of Safety and Resilience through a Comprehensive Emergency Management Program” was broken into five main parts: Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery. He said “most safety plans deal only with response.”

Here is a quick summary from his outline.
Step 1: Prevention—Kuepper suggests that the school district’s first step in creating and engaging a team is to create an advisory committee with representation from all stakeholders (i.e., teachers, students, staff, parents, community, media) and expertise (emergency services, engineering and legal) to provide input, resources and support for the program.

Step 2: Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment I—The school (district) shall identify hazards, and monitor those hazards and the likelihood of their occurrence, including:
(1) Natural hazards (geological, meteorological, and biological): earthquakes, wildland fires, landslides, flooding, extreme weather (heat wave, extreme cold, high winds, etc.) and contagious diseases.
(2) Human-caused events (accidental and intentional): motor-vehicle traffic accidents, violence, terrorism, suicides, fire, food poisoning, drug and alcohol abuse and bomb threats.

Step 3: Prevention and Mitigation—The school (district) shall develop a strategy to prevent an incident that threatens life, health, property and the environment.

For an incident that cannot be prevented (i.e., earthquake) the school (district) shall develop and implement a mitigation strategy that includes measures to be taken to limit or control the consequences, extent, or severity of an incident.

Step 4: Resource Management and Exercises. This includes these measures:
(1) The school (district) shall identify and account for services, equipment, and facilities to support Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery activities.
(2) The school [district] shall evaluate its emergency management program and capabilities through periodic testing and exercises.
(3) Create and mandate for all school employees (teachers, aides, maintenance, contractors, etc.), prior to employment, least one day of intense Disaster Training.
(4) Create a curriculum that covers mandatory disaster education and training for students in:
•CPR and First Aid
•Accident Prevention
•Earthquake Preparedness (all residents of the Mountain Communities are very close to the San Andreas Fault)
•Disaster Preparedness

The last of his suggestions was an eye-opener. It suggested that shortness in staff in the school district could be remedied by using the ample resource on hand: 500 students.

His solution is to create a “Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)” at the high school that would go through all the training that is required of adult CERT members.

Step 5:  Create a school district Teen CERT program that educates students about the importance of disaster preparedness and response. Kuepper suggested that by modeling the programs after the adult CERT program (i.e., in Pine Mountain) it would empower teens to learn skills for responding to a wide variety of emergencies at school and in the community.

“Let’s Talk” was co-hosted by the library’s Marie Smith and Open Door Ministry. Christine Buma, pastor for Open Door, coordinated the speakers. Advertising and refreshments were financed by Thrivent Financial.

[Corrections to parts of this story dealing with the Boston Marathon events were made on Friday, April 19. It was updated with information not available when the print edition went to press.]

This is part of the April 19, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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