Commentary: The Oregon School Tragedy as Viewed from New York

Born and raised on the streets of New York City, I had always thought of myself as a New Yorker through and through. But then at the age of twenty-nine, I was sent to Oregon for a few days as part of my job working for New York City mayor John V. Lindsay and my attraction to the state quickly became an obsession. Forty-seven years later and back in New York after living in Oregon on and off for more than four decades, when I hear Oregon mentioned on the national news, I stop in my tracks and my focus is entirely on what is being said – as it was today when I heard of the shooting on the campus of Umpqua Community College in the middle sized (by Oregon standards) community of Roseburg, Oregon, with a population of twenty-thousand. Once again I was an Oregonian and my community took precedence over all else going on around me. I am in large measure what New York made me yet there is enough remaining to make me an Oregonian too for Oregon is the place where I intend to return-someday.

I have been educated entirely in New York schools, from early childhood through graduate school and law school; and after having served as a New York City school teacher and an adjunct instructor in New York universities as well, I have asked myself why our nation’s urban settings often noted for their classroom violence seem to be immune from the active shooter violence which seems to occur in more rural settings at the hands of lone shooters. While urban America’s public schools seem to be subjected to regular gang violence sparked by territorial violence over drug commerce and general control of the streets, random classroom shooting in suburban and rural high schools and college settings begs the question is it the availability of handguns and/or insufficient mental health services that really needs serious attention.

Whenever the nation suffers a tragic loss of young people at the hands of one of their own who is deranged, depressed, or damaged by having being ignored, bullied, or rejected by peers or even well meaning adults oblivious to the needs of their own children, community officials reach for the easy source, guns. Guns are part of our society but so to is mental illness and surely it is time to give mental services at least as much attention as guns are getting. I lament with my fellow Oregonians the horrible loss of the young people killed this morning in Roseburg and I resent our political leaders’ decision to rush to the podium and decry the availability of firearms as the cause of this tragedy even before we know if the use of this gun in the hands of this young man was the product of inadequate gun control.

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