Thursday, December 12th, 2013
A team of NBC News investigative reporters were able to enter a number of New York City-area schools without being stopped or asked for identification, exposing what they are saying are some gaps in school security measures that are particularly troubling as the one-year anniversary of the terrible school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut nears. More from NBC News:
Today Show National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen was able to enter one New Jersey school without giving a name. Unescorted, he went looking for the main office, per school policy. As he looked, he walked past several classrooms with kids, stopping at one to ask a teacher for directions. No one asked who he was, or what he was doing there. For two minutes, he walked through the halls, and was only stopped once he arrived at the office.
The school’s PTA told NBC the findings were a “wake-up” call.
“This is incredibly problematic,” said safety consultant Sal Lifrieri, a former director of security at the New York City Office of Emergency Management, after watching the video. “Something like this, two minutes of not being challenged, it’s just too much harm you could have caused if you really had intent.”
At the other four schools he visited, however, he was asked for identification and kept away from children and classrooms.
He was buzzed in after identifying himself at one school, and was escorted straight to the principal’s office. At another, a guard intercepted him outside the building and asked for identification.
But in New York City, Jonathan Vigliotti of WNBC was able to walk in to seven out of 10 schools without being challenged. “I had a harder time getting into my friend’s apartment building,” said Vigliotti.
At one school he was able to bypass the metal detector, roam the hallways, and enter a gym full of kids. Approached later, the guard at the metal detector was surprised to learn Vigliotti hadn’t signed in. “Wow,” said the guard. “I thought you were a teacher.”
The New York City Police Department, which trains public school guards, said it would investigate after it was contacted by NBC.
Image: School security cameras, via Shutterstock
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Friday, February 1st, 2013
Advocates on all sides of the national debate about gun violence were heard Wednesday when a Senate held an emotion-filled hearing on the issue.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was seriously wounded in a gun assault in 2011, testified despite having difficulty speaking because of her injuries. “Violence is a big problem,” she said, “Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time to act is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.” Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, urged Congress to enact better mental health screenings and other gun control measures–emphasizing that they are both gun owners themselves.
On the other side of the issue, gun advocates testified that women and mothers in particular would be put in danger if strict gun control measures limit the number of bullets a gun can contain. The Week magazine reports:
Gayle Trotter, a representative of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, testified that military-style weapons with high-capacity clips are “the great equalizer for women,” and that “in a violent confrontation, guns reverse the balance of power.” She argued that “using a firearm with a magazine holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, a woman would have a fighting chance even against multiple attackers.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) concurred, saying, “Fifteen rounds in the hands of a mother trying to protect her children may not be enough.”
The hearing is Congress’ first major step toward revisiting gun legislation in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting and other recent gun violence tragedies.
Image: The U.S. Capitol, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
The families of those who were killed in the December mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut held a news conference Monday to announce a violence prevention initiative they are organizing to prevent future tragedies like those their families endured. More on “Sandy Hook Promise” from The New York Times:
In some of their first public statements since the shooting, which killed 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the families of 11 of the victims called for a national dialogue on issues of mental health, school safety and what their nonprofit group, called Sandy Hook Promise, described as “gun responsibility.”
The gathering came as President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. prepared to unveil gun-control proposals as soon as Tuesday that are expected to call for a ban on the kind of assault weapon and high-capacity ammunition magazines used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown shooting.
But perhaps foreshadowing the difficult and contentious debates to come in Washington, group members declined to offer support for any specific measures, saying they needed time to educate themselves on the issues, and emphasizing that the debate must be broader than gun control.
“It’s only been 30 days, and for the past 30 days we’ve really been looking inward and supporting our community,” said Tim Makris, a founder of the group who had a fourth-grade son at the school, who was not hurt.
“We love the focus of the president,” he added, “and we love that the vice president reached out recently to talk directly to the families that chose to meet with him. But we don’t have an immediate response right now.”
Tom Bittman, another founder, who has children who previously attended the school, said that many of the group members were gun owners.
“We hunt, we target shoot,” he said. “We protect our homes. We’re collectors. We teach our sons and daughters how to use guns safely. We’re not afraid of a national conversation in our community and in Congress about responsibility and accountability. We know there are millions of people in this nation who agree with us.”
The news conference, which included other members of the Newtown community, was the first time a group of Sandy Hook families spoke publicly about the tragedy.
Image: News microphone, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, December 20th, 2012
School officials across the country are contemplating the horrific events of last week’s shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and asking the question, how can we keep our schools safe? Parents tend to have very strong opinions on the broader question of whether teachers should ever be armed. But a more measured question–whether schools should hire armed security guards–is capturing more attention as the days unfold. The debate is playing out across social media, across dinner tables, and, as The New York Times reports, among school board members nationwide:
“Across the country, some 23,200 schools — about one-third of all public schools — had armed security staff in the 2009-10 school year, the most recent year for which data are available.
Now, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, school officials across the nation are reviewing security protocols, including lockdown drills and building entry procedures, but also whether to hire more armed guards.
These questions arise amid a broader political and societal debate about gun control. While some people view the prospect of bringing additional guns into schools as fueling a culture of violence, others say children need the protection.
On Sunday, a former education secretary, William J. Bennett, indicated on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would support such measures. “I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing,” said Mr. Bennett, who served under President Ronald Reagan.
With national sentiment starting to move in favor of stricter gun laws, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan vetoed a bill on Tuesday that state lawmakers had passed just a day before the shootings in Newtown, allowing registered gun owners to carry concealed weapons in schools. But also on Tuesday, a legislator in South Carolina introduced a similar bill that would allow school employees to carry guns in schools.
The question of whether to place trained security guards with guns in schools is left up to local districts. These officers are charged with protecting students not just from intruders but also from each other. They often conduct classes in preventing gang violence or bullying, as well as handle more prosaic tasks like issuing traffic tickets.
According to the Council of the Great City Schools, cities including Albuquerque, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis have armed officers in schools, either contracting with local police forces or recruiting their own dedicated security staff. Other cities, including Boston and New York, place unarmed security officers in schools. Sandy Hook Elementary did not have a security guard on campus.”
Image: School hallway, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
Parents whose children have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are feeling unsettled as news outlets have bandied about reports that the Newtown, Connecticut shooter, Adam Lanza, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, leading some to assume a link between the syndrome and violent behavior. Aspergers’s, however, is not associated with violence, as from The New York Times reports:
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders, who are often bullied in school and in the workplace, frequently do suffer from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. A divorce mediator who met with the parents of Adam Lanza, the gunman, during their divorce told The Associated Press that the couple had said that their son’s condition had been diagnosed as Asperger syndrome.
But experts say there is no evidence that they are more likely than any other group to commit violent crimes.
“Aggression in autism spectrum disorders is almost never directed to people outside the family or immediate caregivers, is almost never planned, and almost never involves weapons,” said Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian hospital. “Each of these aspects of the current case is more common in other populations than autism.”
Dr. Lord said that in an unpublished review of data tracking several hundred adults with autism over at least the past five years, she and fellow researchers had found no use of weapons. Among more than 1,000 older children and adolescents in that study, only 2 percent were reported by parents to have used an implement aggressively toward a nonfamily member — fewer than in a control group. That finding was repeated in another set of data that she analyzed over the weekend at the request of The New York Times.
But some of the Twitter messages, electronic postings and media reports in the aftermath of the massacre that has horrified the nation have not reflected that characterization of autism.
“Try curing the real disease, Autism, not the N.R.A.,” wrote one individual on Twitter on Sunday night in response to calls for tighter gun control laws.
“Something’s missing in the brain, the capacity for empathy, for social connection, which leaves the person suffering from this condition prone to serious depression and anxiety,” said one psychologist on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
In a widely circulated defense of the empathic powers of her 11-year-old son, who has an Asperger diagnosis, Emily Willingham, a science blogger, wrote that “he can’t bear to watch people crack tree nuts, like pecans, because being something of a tree nut himself, he feels pain on behalf of the nuts.”
On the DailyKos, a blogger who identified himself as having Asperger syndrome worried that the actions of Mr. Lanza, 20, who killed 20 young children and 7 adults, including his mother, and was described by a classmate as having a “very flat affect,” might be how “people with this disability are defined in the popular imagination.”
His own flat affect, he explained, does not mean that he has no feelings: “Our emotions don’t naturally show on our faces,” he wrote. “This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the Asperger experience, because people think you’re not feeling when you may be feeling even more strongly than they are.”
Image: Serious boy, via Shutterstock
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