Banding together after Florida

Once again, we are hearing the outcry of our fellow citizens asking for help in the wake of the murderous rampage played out by a young man who was able to buy an automatic weapon, commit mass murder all the while dealing with his own mental illness; to borrow a line from President Trump, Sad!

When and where will we begin to get a handle on the various forms of mental illness that too many of our young people are affected by (and plenty of older folks as well)? Is the proliferation of drugs in our society at fault? Is it due to a lack of good parenting skills? Are the schools so overcrowded that the teachers and administrators don’t have the time to deal with the student in need of the most help? Are there too many guns? Is it the fault of society in general?

I don’t ask these questions for the purpose of invoking criticism nor provoking the NRA member or members of either political party. I ask because I am truly concerned for our children who go to school each day with fears of “will my school be next?” I ask because we have our elected leaders scratching their heads and not knowing what to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that President Trump and every member of Congress shares some of the same questions that I have asked. There is no doubt in my mind that if the president or any member of Congress could snap their fingers and make it all right that they would do it … yesterday! I believe today’s most recent crisis is in the hands of “we the people” and that is what I am hoping for.

There will be a march on Washington, D.C., demanding that laws be enacted that will make a difference — but will they? How do you keep someone who is hell-bent on committing murder from doing it? Where are the red flags that should go up as the warning signs? Will they be seen in time?

The young man who committed this heinous act in Florida was known to the students, teachers, social services and law enforcement to be mentally unbalanced. And yet, he found a way to get around the system. Even the adults with whom he lived didn’t see anything; even with all of the other complaints and concerns that others seemed to know. This parallels the same situation with the shooter who killed the young people at Virginia Tech; he too was known to his teachers, counselors, social workers as being mentally unstable. And yet, he was able to purchase a gun and carry out his desire to create death and destruction unabated.

I am too often reminded of the phrase that law enforcement officers use regularly, “if you see something say something.” Well, plenty of people saw something and they said something — where was the failure? I am always hesitant to place blame, but there are seventeen innocent human beings dead who should be alive today because someone somewhere dropped the ball, and a young man was able to go out and purchase an automatic weapon and wreak havoc and mayhem within a school located in what was once considered to be a safe city in which to live.

The NRA would like for us to believe their mantra that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And they are right. But, if guns were more difficult to purchase, if the mentally ill and those who are criminally inclined had to undergo a more extensive background check, maybe fewer people would kill innocent people. If AK-47s, AR-15s, Bump Stocks and other weapons designed as weapons of war were not available to the general public, then maybe fewer people would kill innocent people.

I heard recently from a friend of mine who is an elected official in the state of Florida. He said that there is really not a lot that can be done in Congress no matter what the President says he wants when it comes to making any changes concerning the gun laws. The NRA is too powerful, this is an election year, and “the idea of changing the gun laws is like trying to change Roe v. Wade, it ain’t gonna happen! This is another one of those social issues that is just too much of a hot button.” Sad!

What should happen to the shooter? Should he be memorialized as one of the most heinous killers of this decade? Will there be copycats — there was one already in Rochester — will there be more? I feel we are facing a time and place that is analogous to the wild, wild west, when one gun slinger tries to take down another for the sole purpose of proving he is better than, meaner than, faster than; you get the idea?

If my friend is right, and there is nothing that Congress will do, can we do something individually or collectively as a community? We donate to help the needy, we contribute to the various charities and events locally, what about educating our young people about guns? What about working with our mental health organizations, our rural ministries, and reaching out to those who are feeling disenfranchised? It’s time to call upon our better angels because I don’t think we can do it alone.

Jesus tells us in Luke 1:37 that “nothing will be impossible with God.” If we ever needed to believe in God and that scripture, today is the day. Change needs to happen sooner than later when it comes to helping the mentally ill and tightening and enforcing the gun laws — it won’t be easy; but nothing that is worthwhile truly is.

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to