In Addressing Gun Violence, Engage Elders in School Activity

by Donna Butts, Dr. Mary Catherine Bateson and Dr. Joan Lombardi

America is a land of ingenuity, creativity and hope. It is also a country distinguished by the amount of gun violence we endure year in and year out. It’s time we call on our strengths, as a nation, to weed out the root causes of that violence and find lasting solutions.

Each mass shooting has raised our consciousness and our outrage a little higher. With Columbine, we realized our high schools weren’t the safe havens we thought they were. And the killing spree at Virginia Tech shattered any illusions we had about the safety of our college campuses. Then, last July, Aurora happened and we realized that even a movie theater could turn into a tomb.

But nothing had prepared us for the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. right in the midst of the holiday season. Twenty tiny children just beginning their formal education were cut down in an environment where their safety should have been assured. And too many other children across the country are affected by violence in their communities everyday.

For Americans of all ages, Newtown was the final indignity. Those children could have been our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews. They and others like them are literally our future as a nation – what affects them, affects us all. The horrific event at Newtown has galvanized the country. We are united in seeking ways to ensure nothing like that will happen again.

The immediate response has been to call for gun control. Gun violence prevention is critical. It’s also critical that we find ways to address the root causes of gun violence. We are dealing with an extremely contentious issue that will require complex solutions, compromise and common sense – and the involvement of every generation.

President Obama has started the ball rolling with the unveiling of Now Is The Time: The President’s Plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence. His plan encompasses a wide range of actions we can take to reduce the probability of another Newtown. Among his recommendations: closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands; banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; making schools safer; and increasing access to mental health services.

The president’s plan is the first step toward finding a bipartisan solution and we applaud his bold leadership.

Our policy makers must now engage in a thoughtful, reasoned debate. More important, they need to act.

We will never know for certain what drives mass murderers to unleash their misery on vulnerable innocents. But we do know that many of these perpetrators share one significant trait: a sense of isolation from the rest of the community.

Frederick Douglass wisely noted, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

So how do we build stronger children? Every generation has a valuable role to play in addressing youth isolation, bolstering conflict resolution, and helping young people build resilience. Concerned older adults offer an excellent example. They have been shown to have a calming presence on younger people in a variety of settings, such as schools, parks and playgrounds. The more older adults we can engage in our schools — as mentors, after-school helpers and tutors — the more our young people can benefit from the one-on-one attention. Further, as the nation’s largest voting bloc, which is growing each year, older adults can and should speak out with a wise and powerful voice to politicians.

In forging intergenerational bonds, we have an opportunity and an obligation to share our wisdom, our experience, and ourselves. Together, we can create the kind of world we want for our children and grandchildren: one that abounds with respect and caring for all. Let’s use our combined voices to ensure a safe learning environment where children can learn and thrive.

We need grand action, not just chatter.

Donna Butts is executive director of Generations United. Drs Bateson and Lombardi serve together as National Honorary Co-Chairs of Generations United’s Seniors4Kids initiative

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