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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Gun control, increased access to mental health services, armed kindergarten teachers...

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The title of this blog post lists some of the potential policy solutions I've seen in policy discussions on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. As with most violent acts that catch the eye of the nation, advocates are calling for policy solutions that span the liberal-conservative political spectrum. Such knee-jerk solutions include stronger gun control laws (ranging from increasing licensing regulations to banning all guns), laws that would strengthen our Second Amendment right to bear arms (including arming teachers), and increased/universal access to mental health services.

There has also been debate about whether people should begin discussing policy solutions immediately or if such discussions should be postponed out of respect for those in mourning. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has stated her intent to introduce legislation that would ban assault weapons in January of 2013. The White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, said immediately after the shooting, "There is, I am sure—will be, rather—a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I do not think today is that day."

I do not have an answer on whether the policy discussion should begin immediately or wait. But I do think it is important for policymakers and advocates to be mindful of potential negative outcomes as they begin crafting legislation meant to prevent such acts of violence from occurring. Putting prevention legislation on the fast track in order to appease the public outcry is never a good idea.

Caylee's Law

For example, think of last year's attempts to enact Caylee's Law across the nation. As the author of that article states,

[E]very time a Casey Anthony-type trial captures the public's attention, someone gets the idea that we need a new law in response to the completely unrepresentative case, a law that presumably would have prevented that particularly travesty from happening. The problem, of course, is that the new law—usually poorly written and passed in a fit of hysteria—is too late to apply to the case it was designed for. But it does then apply to everyone else.

Caylee's Law would have made it a felony if parents/caregivers failed to report a missing child within 24 hours or a death of a child within the hour of the child's death. But this reactionary policy solution came with many unanswered questions, such as:

  • Might witnessing the death or abduction of a child impair a caregiver's ability to properly report such an event to authorities?
  • What is the significance of the reporting time limits?
  • When does one start the clock on the reporting time limit? Is it based on when the caregiver discovers the child missing or dead, or when the event occurred even if the caregiver had no idea?

The need for a rational policy discussion

Rather, policymakers and advocates from all points of the political spectrum need to come together and rationally and patiently discuss potential policy solutions. Determine the possible consequences of banning all guns, tightening gun licensing regulations, providing arms to our teachers, and increasing access to mental health services. Approach the problem from an ecological perspective, recognizing that there may not be one simple solution, but rather there may be a myriad of issues to address in the policy solution. What should guide the discussion is what would bring the best possible outcomes for our children, their families, and the communities in which they live while working to prevent such violent acts as these.

Here are some of the policy-related articles I've come across:

If you were (or if you will be) a part of the policy discussion, what policy solution(s) would you raise?

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