Sen. Joe Manchin's essay regarding violence and gun control was interesting, but the senator neglected to mention two key aspects of the problem - the breakdown of society's basic social unit, the family, and the occasional folly of our criminal justice system.
Regarding the latter, consider that William Spengler, who killed two firefighters in Webster, N.Y., last week, had a troubled past. He was convicted of manslaughter after killing his grandmother with a hammer in 1980. Manslaughter, mind you, not murder. He was given an indeterminate sentence, spent 18 years behind bars and was released. Oh, he was placed on "supervised parole," but while on "supervised parole," he obtained various guns that were used to kill the firefighters last week.
Yes, Spengler killed the firefighters, but their blood also is on the hands of the judge, the defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney, the parole board (and its supervisors) and the prison system. What's more, their blood also is on our hands, because we have not paid close enough attention and worked hard enough to ensure that our criminal justice agencies can protect us from the William Spenglers of the world.
But there's more to the violence we're witnessing today, and Sen. Manchin touched on several factors. Sadly, he neglected to mention a fundamental cause, the erosion of the family.
In years past, children were taught values and socially acceptable behavior primarily by their parents Today, many parents have opted out and are allowing others to shape their children.
Those parents may not know how to raise children, or they may not care. Consider:
In Newtown, Conn., news reports suggest that the killer, Adam Lanza, 20, came from a broken and dysfunctional home. They further suggest that he was mentally unstable but was introduced to guns by his mother, who would later become one of his victims.
The audience attending "The Dark Knight" in Aurora, Colo., the night of the theater shooting included young children brought to the theater by their parents. Why would any parent knowingly expose his or her child to the scenes of unspeakable violence in such a movie?
What is the solution? Today, I see only one. Involve our school systems even more in the upbringing of children - especially children from dysfunctional homes. And we can do that by hiring more counselors, especially in the early grades, to work with troubled families - the kids and their parents - with the goals of establishing healthy habits and helping the children develop into responsible citizens.
I've mentioned this to a couple of members of the Randolph County Board of Education, and they are quick to say that they are hamstrung by state regulations and a lack of funds. Perhaps, but they also show no interest in figuring out how to provide more counselors. How sad.
Sen. Manchin likes the idea of a non-elected, government-sanctioned body with "teeth" to attack our problem of violence today, and he points with pride to the commission that investigated the 9/11 attack.
I do not share the senator's enthusiasm, and he should be aware that huge gaps in national security remain more than a decade after publication of the 9/11 report. I fear that a panel looking into violence will be similarly ineffective and that the violence will continue and worsen, with more innocent people being killed because our basic social unit, the family, is disintegrating.