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Downers Grove forum focuses on community response to mass shootings

Every parent wants their child to feel safe when they go to school, but how that is often achieved differs from one school district to another.

First Congregational United Church of Christ recently hosted a forum entitled, “Community Response to Mass Shootings.”

In the wake of last month’s mass shooting, a tragedy shook not only those in Parkland Fla., but also many others across the nation.

The forum was designed to provide a space for discussion, as well as for the public to ask questions and receive answers.

First Congregational United Church of Christ Pastor Scott Oberle said hosting the program at the church makes sense.

“As a community faith, we also have concerns about violence in our society,” he said.

Mass shootings have become a more frequent topic in the news over the years.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Pastor Greg Morris said the problem could be that social media allows people to hide behind a screen to hurt other people without the threat of consequences.

Maxon’s Supplies and Indoor Range owner Dan Aldridge agreed.

“What really has changed, I think, is the inescapability of bullying,” he said. “When I was growing up, you could go home. You were in a safe place. You could go to your youth group. You’re in a safe place. Now, bullying follows these kids around 24/7. They’re attached to their phones, and they simply can’t escape it.

Community High School District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele negated the idea, saying that he’d like to speak up in defense of today’s children.

“Our kids today are far more in tune their peers, with society, with each other than they ever have been before,” he said. “I think kids get a bad rap today. It’s real issue to point to social media and cyberbullying and say that, ‘This is the reason why this is happening.’ These are very rare events. I know they’re tragic, but they’re rare.”

Thiele acknowledged that there is a lot going on in schools and said the easy thing to do is to point blame.

Several panelists shared concern for the reporting systems in place to prevent certain individuals from obtaining firearms.

Under Illinois law, municipalities do not have the right to make gun control laws.

Downers Grove Police are committed to ensuring that schools remain safe.

Aldridge said schools are not secure the way airports, gun shops and police stations are, in part, because they are gun-free zones.

“If the schools want to be serious about this, I think they need to make it harder for people to create this mayhem,” he said.

Deborah Anderson-Phillips, a Downers Grove Marchers gun control committee member, refuted the idea, however.

“I think that schools are a place where children go to learn in their community,” she said. “To change them into a place that has metal detectors, searches and armed guards, is to make them like a prison. I would hope that we can some other solutions.”

Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Psychologist Ken Davidson said though a person with mental health issues is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator, part of the problem does, in fact, rest in this realm.

“Part of it is mental health care is limited,” he said. “We’d like to see more expansion. We’d like to see more working collaboratively with other people. The hope is that people in the future will be more integrated, more involved.”

Davidson said the problem is a stigma gets attached to mental health when people point to it as the central focus of the nation’s problem with mass shootings.

Anderson-Phillips agreed.

“It is a mental problem we have to address it quick, but it’s not the whole problem.”

Oberle took time to thank everyone for coming out to the forum.

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