Time for a change? A discussion about gun laws Part 1

The Means Report

It is a topic that is key to our community and to our country – mass shootings. It is a topic that we wish we did not have to cover, but we know that it is a reality of our times. It is something that dominates our headlines no matter where they occur – schools, churches, restaurants, movie theaters – and we are going to break it down on many levels.

Brad Means – We’ve brought in people representing several areas of expertise to talk about it. I think you’ll find their comments quite informative, and I think that you’ll enjoy as far as from an information standpoint the next two episodes of The Means Report. But first, what about mass shootings? Doesn’t it seem like that we didn’t hear about them back in the day? Truth is, they’ve been going on in our country since, maybe as early as the 40s. You’ll find documentation online and in other places since the 50s and the 60s for sure but they have really come to the forefront in the last 11 years or so. In fact that’s when the top five deadliest mass shootings in our country’s history have occurred. Before we meet our panel, some perspective. From News Channel 6’s John Hart.

– [News Announcer] Police say a suspect opened fire at a high school there.

– [News Announcer] A local sheriff’s office says there are reports of multiple victims.

– [Dispatch] Third to the second floor. He may have a gas mask on now.

– And I heard the shots. And then I saw the shooter run out to Mr. Feis. And I saw Mr. Feis get shot.

– [News Announcer] Police say Cruz was armed with an AR-15 rifle.

– [News Announcer] State and Federal law enforcement officials say Devon Kelly of New Braunfels, Texas, walked into the First Baptist Church and started firing.

– [Dispatch] We have six ambulances en route.

– Now most of our church family is gone. And the few of us that are left behind, lost tragically yesterday.

– [News Announcer] The worst mass shooting in Texas history.

– [News Announcer] This community begins to lay 20 1st graders and six adults to rest. 26 victims who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

– There’s no way out. People ask us to not fear, to not be paranoid, but how?

– [News Announcer] Police are trying to figure out why 20 year old Adam Lanza burst into the building and started firing a high powered rifle.

– It is an act of evil on a scale that we’ve never seen in this country before.

– [News Announcer] The sounds of a massacre underway.

– [Witness] And so everyone just start running and then we heard gunshots.

– [News Announcer] The rampage ended when the gunman, still in the classroom building turned one of his semi-automatic pistols on himself.

– [News Announcer] What was supposed to be a fun night out with friends, turned into a war zone. Gunshots echoed throughout Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. At least 50 people were killed in the night club, including the gunman.

– It’s hard. Every gunshot I heard, I was hoping to live, and my friends.

– We begin with breaking news overnight in Las Vegas, multiple people are dead.

– [Woman] Come on, let’s go!

– [News Announcer] A gunman opened fire Sunday night, near the Mandalay Bay Casino hotel in Las Vegas, sending people fleeing as police and SWAT units searched for the shooter. Witnesses reported hearing hundreds of shots fired.

– And my buddy’s like, “I just got hit.”

– [News Announcer] The shooting happened at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival, during Jason Aldean’s performance.

– Jason Aldean, left the stage, and then everybody started fleeing.

– We determined there was a shooter on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay. Officers responded to that location, and engaged the suspect at that location. He is dead.

– Take the guns first, go through due process second.

– Not having background checks at gun shows, is like checking ID’s at the liquor store, but not at the bar.

– This is gonna be an ongoing process and something that we don’t expect to happen overnight.

Brad Means: John Hart putting that package together for us, and illustrating in profound fashion what we have endured in this country over the past many years, it’s something that seems all too common. You can search the internet and find that a mass shooting, happens as commonly from once every 11 days, to once every 64 days. Bottom line is, they are happening far too often. And so we’re here to talk about it today, as I mentioned with an esteemed panel of experts, community members, and many of whom I suspect need no introduction. We will begin with Letitie Clark. Letitie Clark, kind enough to take the time to be with us today. Mother of Ryan Clark, you saw him just now and before we even go further, I want to thank you for staying in this room during that, and I’m sorry that we had to air it right here off the top. But thank you for being here Ms. Clark.

Letitie Clark: You’re welcome.

Brad Means: Appreciate you. Right next to Ms. Clark on her left is Steven Fishman. Mr. Fishman is the owner of Sidney’s department store, a key business in the downtown Augusta area, for probably pushing a hundred and some odd years. We’ll get the specifics from Mr. Fishman in just a moment. And on the other side of Ms. Clark we have Sheriff Alfonzo Williams, Waynesboro native. Now the sheriff of his beloved Burke county, and we appreciate you being here as well, sir.

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: Thank you, Brad

Brad Means: Going to our top row, we have the superintendent of Richmond County schools, Dr. Angela Pringle. Dr. Pringle, school shootings unfortunately have been in the news, thank you for lending your expertise to us today. Dr. Michael Vitacco, thank you for being here from the Medical College of Georgia, at Augusta University. A forensic psychologist. Maybe we can get into the minds of some of these people and find out what makes them mad. What makes them do what they do? Juvenile court judge Doug Flanagan. No stranger to The Means Report and no stranger to a lot of families out there. He does a lot of good helping kids, moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers. Judge thank you. We’re gonna hear from all six of our panelists, as this edition and as the next edition of The Means Report unfolds, so we encourage you to stay with us for that. The conversation starts after this.

Segment 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to this special edition of The Means Report a two part special, on mass shootings. On guns, gun laws and what we can do as a community, and as a country, to try to move forward in a positive way. We’re gonna begin our discussion with our experts, and our community leaders with Mrs. Letitie Clark. She is mother of Ryan Clark, the Virginia Tech shooting victim. But more so than that, your son, your angel, a star at Lakeside high school and for the Hokie Nation at Virginia Tech. Headlines like the ones we’re discussing, and panels like the ones you’re participating in, can’t help the healing process or do they?

Letitie Clark: They do, they really do, because they open a line of communication, with the public, with community leaders, with everyone. We become the face of reality, you know. It opens up to let you see that this is what happens. You know we used to say, “It happens over there.” But we are over there now. It used to be, we’d hear it happened and you’d think, “That’s far away,” but we’re no longer far away. Far away is here now. So we are the face of here.

Brad Means:  But it’s not going away. Is that the goal, to try and eliminate this? I had a political scientist come on The Means Report one time, Ms. Clark, and I said, “Are school shooting’s just the new normal?” And he said, “Yes, they will.” This was after Parkland, and I said, “Will they happen again?” And he said, “Yes, they will.” Are we trying to stop or just hoping through more awareness we can cut down.

Letitie Clark: We want it to stop, but we can only get it to stop if people see that it really does happen. You can’t go and hide, because something happens. If you hide away, they don’t believe that it happens. No one will believe that it happened. So we can’t hide. You have to be a voice. You have to say that, “Yes, this happens. “It happens to people, real people.” Let them see, touch and see that you hurt, you bleed, you are the face of what happens when bad things happens. Let them see that there are real people out there that are hurting. So that if you see real people hurting, maybe something will be done.

Brad Means: We talk about a lot of responsibility. Dr. Angela Pringle is the superintendent of the Richmond Country School system. She has the care, the safety, the security of some 30 plus thousand children under her, each and every weekday, and in some cases weekends as well. Parkland, the Parkland shooting prompted us to do this show, Dr. Pringle. It’s most recently in the headlines. Tell me how things have changed in Richmond County School system since then.

Dr. Angela Pringle: Well things have changed over the years, Brad. You know at one time we didn’t have SRO’s in our schools, it was very much a new thing to have an SRO, a School Resource Officer in the schools. And now that’s the norm. That’s a part of your staffing formula. And now we think more and more about active shooter training we conduct active shooters training, not to just with our School Resource Officers, but with teachers and students. It’s very important that everyone know how to best respond to an active shooter, and that’s most unfortunate, you know. Emergency plans at one time were filled with fire drills, and tornado drills, and now we have active shooter drills. That’s a very different atmosphere to exist in.

Brad Means:  Would you say that since those drills were put in place, and since the things we won’t talk about were put into place, because we want to keep those security secrets secret, if you will. Do you feel that the schools in Richmond County, at least have a safer feel in recent years?

Dr. Angela Pringle: I do. We recently had an accreditation visit and that was one of the things we were applauded for, was a safe feeling in the schools. We have added security in our schools, a heightened sense of awareness of strangers, and how we accommodate visitors. And so we feel the children should feel safe, and if they don’t then we certainly address it immediately.

Brad Means: You know, before he become a sheriff of Burke county, Alfonzo Williams was the board of education police chief, so you were in charge of the men and women, those SRO’s who kept our schools safe. And my question to you is can you tell when you have a bad kid on campus by looking at him, by watching him by listening to him can you tell right away, this person’s suspect?

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: Well I think it’s really important that we train our student staff and faculty to be vigilant. I think that’s one of the primary ways to avoid, to be proactive, to head things off before they get bad, is for students, staff and faculty to report those things that are out of place, those persons who are suspicious, those persons who are angry, those students who are being bullied, those students who are withdrawn, or might have the propensity to engage in violence. We need to know that. We need to know it ahead of time. And we can investigate. We take those complaints seriously, and that will help avoid some of the problems that we see.

Brad Means: Judge Doug Flanagan, you’ve seen countless children, come through your courtroom. You’ve seen their families as well. Are kids born bad or does society make them turn into that?

Judge Doug Flanagan: I don’t think they’re born bad. You know, what we need is better parents in a lot of instances. We don’t have a lot of family units like we did 30, 40 years ago, with mom and dad in the household. The schools do an excellent job. What the schools I think need is some more school social workers. You know I look at the number of social workers, in Richmond County and Colombia County and Burke County, and most schools don’t have a social worker per school. And I think these people could also be the eyes and ears. They talk to other students to see what’s going on, can assist the SRO’s and the school staff. It’s another set of eyes that listens to children, and knows the children have special problems.

Brad Means: Dr. Vitacco, would you agree with the assessment that kids aren’t born bad or from a clinical standpoint, from a psychological standpoint, is there, perhaps, evil or badness built into a kid?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: No, I would agree with the judge, I think we have to get to a point where, we’re all aware of some of the factors that can lead to violence, and by looking at some of those factors and trying to prevent them, I think that’s really the key just to stop some of these things. Some of my colleagues have even suggested to me, that we don’t, mental health professionals should not even have a seat at this table. And it’s a philosophy I very much disagree with. I think we as mental help professionals have a lot to add, regarding treatment, regarding assessment, and trying to head off problems before they get to this degree.

Brad Means: Well you were one of the first phone calls we made, when we set up this panel so I’m glad that you’re at this table. Steven Fishman, you own the store that sells guns, how hard is it to get one? Or how easy it is to get one, or is it in between?

Steven Fishman: Well the process for purchasing a firearm, if you already have been vetted, if you already have a permit to carry, takes about a half an hour’s worth of paperwork.

Brad Means: How about guy off the street?

Steven Fishman: Guy off the street without a permit to carry, it could take 45 minutes, hour and a half, if he has a clean record. And what’s amazing to me is people do not understand. And one of the first questions I ask them, if they have a clean record is, “Have you ever had your photograph taken “and your fingerprints rolled?” And it’s amazing how many people will sit there and they say, “Well, no, I haven’t.” But they’ve been arrested multiple times, and we know instantly that, you know, the system does work.

Brad Means: How much of a grasp on their mental background, can you get in that 90 minute check?

Steven Fishman: Well, this is the beauty of the system. Because if they have a criminal history, we could find out almost instantly. If they have a mental issue, you have HIPPA laws keeping, especially if they are affluent and don’t go to public health, but if they go to private doctors, the HIPPA Acts, those doctors are not gonna notify anyone that that person has a mental issue.

Brad Means: Dr. Vitacco what about that? How can we be, if what Mr. Fishman saying is accurate, I have no reason to believe it isn’t, kind of break down those barriers so that that mental health information is out there?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: That’s a really good question. I don’t think there’s one solution, but one of the things I think we can all point to, as we saw the introduction coming in is many of these shooters had a clear background replete with mental health symptoms. We’ve seen that several times in the last, you know, five to six shootings. Because of that, you know these people should’ve not only maybe had to receive treatment but they should’ve been prevented from getting a firearms as much as humanly possible.

Brad Means: We have talked to each one of our panelists, I think once each. The segment is already flying by. We’re gonna take a quick break during this special edition of The Means Report, and continue the conversation about guns, gun safety, our children, our community and what we do from here. The conversation in a moment.

Segment 3

Brad Means: Welcome back to this special edition of The Means Report, talking about guns and violence and the headlines that we have covered in the past couple of decades regarding mass shootings. Dr. Angela Pringle, Superintendent of Richmond County Schools, I want to go back to you on our panel now. I asked my children on the way to school the other day, I said, “You know boys, if you see something,” and they both said, “Say something.” And so it made me wonder how much the system depends on kids to be the eyes and ears of our school safety efforts. Do you lean on them to kind of keep you abreast?

Dr. Angela Pringle: Oh absolutely we have a robust surveillance system, however children tell us so much more, through social media. We’re fortunate enough to have community members who monitor social media as well, and would call in, on the various hotlines that we have and tell us what’s going on. But kids, we rely so much on our students to share information and danger zones and things that might be going on with other students.

Brad Means: What would you say to a parent or a child, who said, “Well, that’s something “that’s happened off campus. “That social media chatter, that bullying, “that’s separate from school, “therefore I’m not gonna rat on the person.” Is it all the tied together the school and out of school?

Dr. Angela Pringle: It’s all tied together, it’s 24/7. At one time we could ignore that, and say that’s a community issue, but no more. In recent years we investigate and track every complaint, every concern of violence on social media.

Brad Means: Sheriff Williams formerly BOE police chief Williams in Richmond County, Georgia, how do you get the kids to trust you to not look at those School Resource Officers and fear them?

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: Well we have SRO’s in our schools to form relationships with our students. They’re not only there to break up fights or to, they’re certainly not there to scare children, but to establish a rapport with them, to teach them values and respect and morality and safety and law. And so by engaging with the students, by helping them, by encouraging them to report, they’re able to gain that trust, and that’s very apparent in our school system.

Brad Means: Dr. Vitacco, what would you say to a child who says, “I’m afraid to go to school”? Heck for that matter, so we’re not just focusing on school shootings, “I’m afraid to go out my door because it’s all I see on TV.”

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Yeah, I think that’s a reality in some cases, and I think one of the things we need to know as a society, that these events are clearly terrible. But if we look at reality they happen, despite the statistics, you know, they’re still very rare. So we have to be mindful, but also we have to be realistic in the fact that you know, it’s likely not gonna happen. So try to you know reassure that student, that individual, as much as possible. And that certainly if a problem comes to bear, the worst thing to do to is say, “Well it’s not gonna happen so ignore it.” And I agree, the thing you need to do most is take them incredibly seriously, so things can be in place to protect other students, and maybe protect that child from doing something terrible that they’ll regret to the rest of their lives.

Brad Means: How specific can we get when our children are asking about things? Because sometimes we can shield them from the news. We can turn it off, we can, well I don’t know with technology today, if we can really shield them, but we can try. For the young ones, how specific can we get?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Well, it’s very interesting you mentioned that, I have a ten year old son. So this latest school shooting in Florida, you know started conversations. I was surprised at how much he already had learned, from YouTube, and some various other channels, that he was already talking to me about some things that happened. Some things he saw, even on YouTube about protecting schools. So I think it’s very important that, you know, we are honest with our kids as much as possible, and talk with them about their fears and kind of what’s going on with them.

Brad Means: Ms. Clark, have we made progress since 2007, when Ryan’s life was taken? Are we moving at all in the direction you’d like to see us moving?

Letitie Clark: I think we’re trying. I think people have opened up their eyes and see that there is a problem. I think schools are trying hard. I live in the CSRA. I think Richmond and Columbia county are putting their efforts into doing things to protect our children. I think we care and that’s a start. And that’s where we start. I do think, we’re having this conversation. That, is big, is huge. And I think just this morning with the walkout of our children, we always ask, “What do our children stand for?” Well look at them. They’re telling us what they want. So I think we’re listening, so that’s a start. So yes, I think we are starting to listen.

Brad Means: Very quick question as we wrap up this first of two special editions of The Means Report for you, Steven Fishman, and it’s similar to the question I asked, Sheriff Williams, can you tell when someone is bad? Can you tell when a potential gun buyer, who walks in to Sidney’s downtown, is probably somebody who should not get a gun before even they ask to be rung up?

Steven Fishman: The federal government allows me to discriminate, without any recourse whatsoever.

Brad Means: Interesting.

Steven Fishman: If I see someone that I look at, and I know he does not need to have a firearm. Alcohol involved, drugs involved, he’s muttering under his breath, I can deny him service instantly, without recourse.

Brad Means: You are watching The Means Report, as we continue to talk about guns, gun laws, mass shootings and where we go from here. We encourage you to stay with us, as we continue the conversation on the next edition of The Means Report. Also you can stay in touch with us and submit your ideas for future editions by emailing us or just going to our website at wjbf.com For Levi, Marlena, and the entire Means Report family, we’ll see you for part two. Thanks for watching.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.