Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A letter to my son's school: Please remove the gun.

January 8, 2013

I have never been more proud of my husband than I am this morning.  The name of our son's school has been removed from this piece.  Otherwise, this is the letter that Larry sent to the CEO and Board Chair last night, after we were greeted back to school from winter break by an armed guard at the carpool line.

Dear ____,

As any parent, we all want our children to be safe at home and in our communities.  The recent events in Newtown, CT, have tragically reminded us again that this is not always the case.  I appreciate all that our school does to help keep my child safe while he is at school.  Unfortunately however, the decision to place an armed guard at the school does not contribute to student safety, and, in fact, may increase his risk for physical or developmental injury.  I became very alarmed and concerned upon learning a firearm is now present on the school's campus.  Prior to today, the chance of my son being in proximity to a deadly weapon while at school was very remote.  Now he is exposed to a gun, daily.  I would like to share the reasons for my concern.

It is often argued that the presence of an armed guard will deter a would-be attacker from entering a school.  However, when quantifying deterrence, one must account for the motivation of the assailant.  In the case of protecting a bank or a truck full of money, an armed guard provides more deterrent because a thief has no interest in causing or receiving bodily harm.  He just wants the money, and wants it with the least amount of risk.

However, a mentally ill shooter, a politically motivated terrorist, or a hate-filled racist is only interested in killing.  There is no regard for the victims' lives, or even his own life.  He is not deterred by an armed guard because he knows he is either going to commit suicide, be shot himself, or at the very least be incarcerated for life.

Protection & Defense
1.  There is no evidence that an armed guard in a school offers students any protection from would be attackers.  History shows this to be true:
*April 1999, a 15 year veteran of the Sheriff's Department was the guard at Columbine High School.  He returned fire and called for police back-up.  Thirteen people were killed over 49 minutes before the 2 teens took their own lives. 
*March 2005, a 16 year old boy killed his grandfather, stole his guns, and murdered 5 people and wounded 12 others before committing suicide.  The first person he shot and killed was the armed security guard at the front desk.
*April 2007, 32 people are killed on the campus of Virginia Tech.  An entire security team was helpless

In fact, “There is no data supporting [the] argument that the further arming...will lessen the death toll in massacres like the one this week in Connecticut. There are in fact rigorous scientific data showing that having a gun in...INCREASES the risk of violent death....”  Fred Rivara, MD.  Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, Seattle Children's Hospital

2.  There is also evidence to demonstrate that the presence of an armed, private security guard increases the rate of violence in schools, (Jennings, WG, et al. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations. Sept 2011. ) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15332586.2011.581511

3.  The qualifications of the armed individual must also be taken into account.  The person who has be charged to protect our children with a firearm...What is his background?  What is his training?  Does he have a relevant medical or mental health history?  I do not find the fact that he was hired from Securitas to be reassuring.  Just this past week, Daniel Grenon from Webster, Mass., unintentionally shot his friend in the abdomen during a game of "quick draw."  This man obviously lacks the responsibility or the respect needed to use a firearm.  Mr. Grenonis a security guard for Securitas.  http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/01/worcester_county_security_guar.html
And this is not the first mishap involving Securitas or other armed guards; just the most recent.

Guns and Children
We listen to the pediatric community when requiring immunizations for our children in order to keep them safe and healthy.  But why does our school want to ignore their recommendations regarding child safety and guns.  Gunshot wounds are a leading cause of injury related death in children.  26% of children ages 5-9 years who die from gun injury were shot unintentionally.  These accidents happen, and the happen often.  For every 1 self defense/justifiable shooting in the home, there are 4 unintentionally shootings and 7 criminal assaults or homicides. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715182 For over two decades, the American Academy of Pediatric has clearly, unequivocally, and repeatedly stated its position of child safety as it relates to guns.  Most recently in November 2012 Pediatrics:  "The AAP affirms that the most effective measure to prevent fire-arm-related injuries to children is the absence of guns from homes and communities." 

In a well-intentioned effort to protect my child, the school has decided to ignore the experts in this field.  Where there is a gun, there can be a gun-related injury.  The mere presence of a gun at the school has now increased the likelihood that my son could be injured or killed by a bullet.

Evelyn and I send our son (and soon our daughter) to the school to receive a Jewish education in a safe, nurturing environment.  The first and last thing they will see upon arriving and leaving their school is a man with a gun.  What effect does that have on the elementary school student's development and psyche?  What education has been provided to my child to prepare him for such a presence?

My last concern has to do with how the decision to place an armed guard on campus has been made.  My understanding that the decision to have an armed security guard at the school was made 4 or 5 years ago because of fears of an anti-semitic attack.  What basis was there at the time to be concerned for such an attack?  And again, what evidence exists to suggest that an armed guard would prevent such an attack? (I again demonstrate that there is no such evidence) I also understand that for financial reasons an armed guard was not affordable.  Suddenly, following the harrowing events of last month, donors have come forward to pay for an armed guard.  If it was believed that an armed guard was vitally necessary 5 years ago where were the donors at that time.  Where was the priority to "protect" the students with a gun in hand.  It seems obvious to me , that the Newtown tragedy is directly responsible for the sudden placement of this guard.

If the rationale to have an armed security guard on the school campus is still the fears that existed 5 years ago, then I would suggest that it is reasonable to revisit that discussion as 5 years have past, and a new parent community is now in place, and we should be given the opportunity to participate in this decision.

If the Newtown shooting is the impetus for placing an armed guard in the school, (as I believe it is) then an open dialogue should take place before such a decision is made.  This was not done.  A last minute email was sent out to parents, and my son had to walk past a gun to get to school today.

I thank you for taking the time to read, what is a lengthy letter.  But as a Pediatric Intensive Care Physician and Pediatric Anesthesiologist who has cared for too many children who have been the victims of gun trauma, I am both sensitive and experienced on this issue. I take very seriously what I believe to be the erred decision to place a gun on school property.

I am asking that the school reconsider its decision to hire an armed guard.  I ask that the school open a conversation with the parent community and experts in child safety in order to continue to provide the most constructive and safe environment in which our children can learn.  I ask that decision on our children's safety be made with the best evidence and data available, and not with the understandable emotion that accompanies a tragedy like the Newtown killings.

I look forward to your response and to participating in future conversations on this issue.

Larry Schwartz, MD
Diplomate, American Board of Pediatrics
American Board of Pediatrics - Pediatric Critical Care Medicine
American Board of Anesthesiology

Friday, December 14, 2012

We are better than this.

Dec. 13, 2012

"Anyone can become angry - that is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way, this is not easy."

After I picked my children up from school this afternoon even though it wasn't my turn to drive carpool, and I sent a message of condolence to the families and victims affected by the senseless violence in Connecticut through the "We are better than this" campaign, I read about common sense gun laws, and about ways we can take action to make a change.  I signed a petition to Congress to stop arming dangerous people.  I searched facebook and blogs and cnn.com looking for comfort or calm or insight or community and don't think anyone could possibly write it better than Lisa Belkin in this Huff Post piece.  Please read it.

And then "[c]ry today. Comfort your kids. Curse, and pray. Then pick up the phone, a pen, a keyboard, or your checkbook and make your demands heard. All day and every day. But most especially today."

Zichrona L'vbracha.  May their memories be a blessing.
Shabbat Shalom,


Friday, December 7, 2012

Peace It On

December 7, 2012

Today's very short and way overdue entry is dedicated to a fabulous friend  who inspires me with her enthusiasm, success and generosity.  Please take a moment to watch the attached video and click here to sign the petition and Peace it On.

  More soon,


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dear women: Please vote!

November 3, 2012

I attended a dinner a few evenings ago to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Jewish Community Center of Denver.  At the dinner, the keynote speaker talked about other things happening in the world around the time the JCC opened its doors.  On the list - women "getting" the vote.  His choice of verbs was benign, of course, but humor me please for a moment as I clarify slightly on his behalf.  

The 1920 passage of the 19th amendment was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women.  While the movement began formally in 1848 at the world's first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, its spark was lit years earlier when two women - Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott - met at the World Anti-Slavery convention in London and got mutually pissed off when the convention refused to seat them and the other women delegates from America.  Click here to read more about how a social gathering (coffee chat at Starbucks, anyone?) between Stanton, Mott, Martha C. Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane Hunt led to the first major push for legal equality for women in our country.    

We women fought hard for, and won that vote. 
Back to today.  November 3, 2012.  Yesterday was the last day to cast an early vote in Colorado, and our country is just three days away from making a momentous decision.  According to the experts, women, especially independent suburban women, can play a critical role in determining who the next president of the United States will be.

What are you waiting for?  

Women now make up 51% of the U.S. population and we possess endless opportunities to determine the direction of our lives.  We have been voting for almost a hundred years, so it may be hard to believe but this Tuesday's election presents a critical choice.  We can choose a leader who will rewind the clock on our hard earned rights or one who will enable us to continue making the choices that are right for our country, our communities, our families and our lives.  

The pundits say that the 2012 presidential is a tight race, that a few votes could make a big difference.  You have the power to make the big difference.  Please exercise your right.  Make your choice.  Make it heard.  

It counts.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Granola bars, Goodwill & VAWA

October 30, 2012

Every weekday morning, as I exit I-25 on the way to drop my daughter Adina off at pre-school, she and I are struck by two things: 1) how absolutely gorgeous the view of the Rocky mountains is from that particular point on Hampden Road, and 2) how sad it is that some people don't have homes.  There is always someone waiting at the light at the end of the exit ramp, holding up a sign, asking us for help.

This morning, Adina and I decided to fill a bag with peanut butter and oatmeal raisin granola bars and give them out over the next week or so to whoever is waiting at that light in the mornings.  Truth: We'd bought 100 or whatever ridiculous amount Costco sells in one box, and it turns out, my kids only like (read: will eat) the chocolate chip ones.  Easiest form of sharing there is.  

(Another truth:  I learned this easy sharing trick from my husband, a man who always asks for his leftovers at a restaurant to be boxed up, and then promptly hands the box to the first homeless person he encounters on the street after the meal.) 

After I got my daughter settled at school, I drove east on Hampden a quarter of a mile to a Goodwill donation center and dropped off four bags filled with clothes that my children had outgrown and that I no longer wanted.  How do my donated items help the Denver community?  Well, they are put up for sale in the thrift store and converted into cash that funds the organization's overhead as well as job skills and job development programs.  "Goodwill Denver is dedicated to programs that benefit the local community by inspiring high schools students, helping people get off welfare and back into the workforce and offering work options for the disabled." 

Then, I came home and sat down at my computer.  Before getting to work, I took three minutes to send emails to my Congressman and Senators to tell them that I think The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is an election issue and must be passed by the end of 2012.  Click here to see the simple script provided for me by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.  Here is where I found my representative's contact information, and here is how I reached my senators.    

And the subtitle to this blog entry is: "Two basically effortless do-gooding acts and I share my opinion.  Again."  

e-impact, easy as pie.  Or granola bars.  Happy Tuesday to you all.  And now, back to work ...


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bucket list: Political ad? - Check.

What else can I say?  Attached is one of the scariest and most meaningful things I have ever done.  Thank you for your support.

link: https://vimeo.com/51958928

password: story

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Joining A Million Voices

October 15, 2012

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.              
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in a relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.  Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.  It can be economic actions or threats of action that influence another person.  Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender.  It can happen to couples who are married, living together, or dating.  Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

The first Domestic Violence month was observed in October, 1987.  That same year, the first national toll-free hotline was established.  In 1989, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month Commemorative Legislation was passed by the U.S. Congress.  Such legislation has passed every year since.  Click here to read President Obama's 2012 Proclamation for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence as a crime and providing federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses to combating violence was passed in 1994.  The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) created and supported comprehensive, effective and cost saving responses to the crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.  VAWA programs, administered by the Departments of Justice & Health and Human Services, dramatically changed federal, tribal, state and local responses to these crimes.  VAWA was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.  The current authorization expired in 2011.  

The fight against domestic violence has long been a cause that moves me.  I've served as a pro bono attorney to victims of domestic violence, counseled a variety of nonprofit organizations on effective communications strategies and public education efforts surrounding the issue, and taught a class to high schoolers about healthy relationships and dating abuse.     

My efforts for this week are modest.  With this blog post, I am joining the National Domestic Violence Hotline's One Million Voices Campaign.   

Imagine the sound of one million voices in unison making the same pledge to help end domestic violence. That’s the goal and you can help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline and campaign founding partner General Federation of Women’s Clubs, along with many individuals and organizations, are dedicated to signing up one million people who are willing to educate, inform, and raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence and the programs that can help.  Learn more.
On a local level, I donated to SafeHouse Denver.  Not money.  I just sent some stuff.  Some really humbling stuff.  SafeHouse posts a wish list on its web site of various items such as clothing, household items, cleaning supplies and toiletries that are needed by its clients at the SafeHouse shelter and Counseling & Advocacy Center.  To make it even easier to make an impact, SafeHouse has registered its wish list on amazon so all you have to do is shop, and the items get sent directly to those who need them.  Macaroni & cheese, socks, children's advil - things for which I routinely walk into Target and $100 later, don't think twice about as I put them away in my safe, loving home.   

Thanks for tuning in.


p.s. There are many organizations working to provide abused women with a secure place to live and to eliminate domestic violence.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Love is Respect
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Hope Line
CHANA (Baltimore, MD)
Shalom Bayit (Bay area)
InMotion  (New York)
Jewish Women International - Mothers Day Flower Project