‘Our generation is going to be the one that has to do it’
By RICK GREEN, The Laconia Daily Sun
LACONIA — It is winter carnival week at Laconia High School, and students have been focused on a dance, a lip-syncing contest and dress-up days, but in the background is what happened 1,500 miles away at a high school in Florida.
There is a sense that students need to be engaged to make their schools safer, said Delia Cormier, president of the senior class.
“Obviously it scares me,” she said. “It can be very emotional.
“I'm not necessarily scared when I come to school, but there's a feeling that anything can happen.
“It gets brought up, if something like that happened, where would you want to go and who would you feel safe with?”
One person who lends a feeling of safety is Steve Orton, the police officer assigned to the school. He has developed a good rapport with students.
In Parkland, Florida, the police officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resigned after failing to enter the building as a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people on Feb. 14.
Cormier said she trusts Orton to act quickly in such an emergency.
“Someone as tough as him, he would be all over it,” she said.
She also said that young people understand the message, “If you see something, say something,” — in other words, if something or someone seems to be a security concern, notify a responsible party.
A 17-minute nationwide school walkout is planned for 10 a.m. on March 14 to protest gun violence and seek congressional action. Cormier said some Laconia High School students will participate.
“I know it's hard for government or adults to get things done on this issue, and there are different arguments and standpoints,” she said. “In some ways they are doing as much as they can, but we wish more could be done, and it probably won't be done, unless by us.
“Our generation is going to be the one that has to do it.”
Laconia High School Principal Mike Fredericksen said local school administrators would want to make sure such a protest is properly organized and constructive.
“I think it's going to be productive if the kids have a voice,” he said. “It could be a good teaching point.”
There have been suggestions after school shootings that the arming of certain school employees could serve as a first line of defense if violence were to break out, but many teachers want no part of such a proposal.
“I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that, to be perfectly honest with you,” Fredericksen said.
Dr. Brendan Minnihan, Laconia schools superintendent, said the notion of adding guns to school campuses in an effort to boost safety frightens many people, including parents.
“It would also present challenges to administrators,” he said. “We'd be the arbiters of who is a safe person with a gun and who is not. The vast majority of school leaders would have concerns with it for safety and logistical reasons.”
Some teachers have also voiced objections.
“What I hear is a general unease, people saying, 'Now they are saying we should be armed? That's not what I teach kids for.'”
Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire, the state's largest teachers’ union, called arming educators “an abominable idea.”
"Politicians admitting that school zones have become killing zones and that our children and educators are unsafe under existing laws is not progress," said Tuttle. "The time for thoughts and prayers has passed. Politicians' thoughts and prayers have only led to empty chairs."
Issues of gun regulation surface after school shootings. Suggestions this time have been to raise the age for buying rifles from 18 to 21, banning “bump stocks,” which allow semiautomatic rifles to simulate an automatic, and toughening background checks necessary for purchasing a firearm.
There have also been suggestions of improving the mental health system. Questions have been raised as to why authorities didn't act on previous warnings about the person accused in the Florida shooting.
Dr. Minnihan said a larger question revolves around the motivation for such attacks.
“Why do we have kids and adults who feel the need or inclination to shoot up a school, church or nightclub?” he asked. “Is it alienation, not feeling a connection to people, the bullying piece, the culture, the experiences a child has?”
At the high school, efforts are made to identify young people new to the district and without a strong support system. Teachers and counselors are encouraged to connect, involve and engage students who may be having trouble at school or at home.
At the Inter-Lakes School District in Meredith, Superintendent Mary Moriarty was not happy when some students staged a walkout on the junior-senior high school campus Wednesday, one week after the shooting in Florida.
“Although the students involved conducted themselves in a very respectful manner and the disruption to our students' day was kept at a minimum, this situation took school leaders, staff and local law enforcement away from significant responsibilities, which did interfere with our safe and orderly operations of the school,” she said in a letter to parents.
“Our schools are neutral with respect to political positions; our goal is to provide learning opportunities for our students to become independent critical thinkers.
“Students who leave class or the school building without permission and/or create disruptions to the learning environment will be subject to consequences that may range from parent contact to suspension.”
For his part, Lt. Michael Harper of the Meredith Police Department credited the students with holding a peaceful rally, showing respect for the 17 lives lost in Florida.
“Kids having a platform is important,” he said. “It wasn’t specifically over guns; it was more about being respectful to the victims lost.”
The gun used in the Florida shooting was an AR-15, a semiautomatic assault-style weapon.
Workers at local gun shops said Friday sales of those rifles spike after they are used in big acts of violence. People are apparently concerned that gun control advocates will succeed in banning the AR-15, or similar weapons.
Police Chief Matt Canfield said the gun itself is not as important as the person using it. Other acts of mass violence have been carried out with cars and knives.
Still, semiautomatic rifles have been a weapon of choice in many school shootings and that has led to concerns.
Canfield said someone recently turned in a 9mm semiautomatic rifle with a scope and asked that it be disposed.
“He saw the stuff in south Florida and said he was fearful that somebody could break into his house and steal it,” Canfield said. “He didn't want the responsibility for it.”
State Rep. David Huot, D-Laconia, who was a judge for 33 years, said that, if re-elected, he will introduce a bill that would ban the sale or transfer of AR-15 rifles.
“My view about these things is you deal with the immediate issue,” he said. “All the mass murders that you have are with AR-15s, so I guess that's what you try to attack.
“The objective would be to tamp this thing down a bit. I don't want to take anybody's gun away.”
• “It’s not the guns”
Harold DeLucca works at A.J.’s Bait Shop, in Meredith, where guns used to be sold. DeLucca, who will turn 68 later this year, has been a hunter since he was 14, and he supports the idea of banning bump stocks and raising the age limit for a weapon such as an AR-15.
Ultimately, though, he thinks the appropriate response to events such as the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is for law enforcement agencies to be more thorough when following up on tips.
“This guy was on the radar, the FBI screwed up,” said DeLucca. “It’s not the guns, it’s the person behind them.”
• Acknowledge the victims
Outside a supermarket in Meredith, Tara Staples of Sandwich, whose children are in elementary school, praised the Inter-Lakes students who staged a walkout on Wednesday.
“I think it’s awesome that the student body stood up for the students who lost their lives,” she said. “The victims need to be acknowledged.”
• Got rid of his gun
Near the U.S. Post Office in Meredith, a man who declined to be named said he felt that having students voicing their opinions was a great idea, but he did not expect it to result in a change in gun laws or a reduction in the ability to obtain a gun.
“If any kid wants a gun, he can get them,” he said.
He said he had guns from the time he was a youth, but after he had his first child, he heard a television message saying, “If your kid knows where your gun is, he also knows where the ammunition is.”
He got rid of his gun the next day.
Adam Drapcho and Tom Caldwell contributed to this report