JP Observer: Newtown shooting hits home

A wave of reflection, as well as mourning, has swept over the country following the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14. The shootings were done by a troubled young man who had shot his mother and went on to kill himself.

This is a good time to look at our neighborhood and where it fits in the national picture.

Jamaica Plain is no stranger to gun violence. Just this past Friday, an eighth-grader at JP’s Curley K-8 School was shot in Roxbury walking from his home to church choir practice. In 2012, at least 11 people were shot and wounded here, six at Bromley-Heath, two on South Street. In Boston, there were 40 fatal shootings and a total of 247 last year, according to the Boston Police Department.

In 2010, there were two non-fatal shootings in Egleston Square; a young man was shot on Boylston Street; and a gun and knife battle at Same Old Place restaurant left three combatants dead and a bystander wounded. Teens and young adults are often the victims as well as the shooters in these violent events.

Community people who gathered in the pouring rain at the rose garden at Bromley-Heath Dec. 23 to memorialize the dead in Newtown said they understand first-hand what the people there are going through in the wake of gun violence.

“For all of us,” said longtime Bromley-Health tenant leader Mildred Hailey of gun violence, “the issue is what to do to prevent it.”

Hailey and others spoke passionately about the need for stricter gun laws and more mental health services to help prevent the epidemic of gun violence in this community and others across the U.S. They have been advocating for both for years.

Clearly, mental health services and attitudes toward them need to be improved everywhere. Limits on the Second Amendment have to be strengthened nationally, including banning assault weapons and related hardware and tightening standards and enforcement of who may own and possess guns.

Massachusetts has an assault weapons ban now, but it is weakened by the lack of a national law. Gun control laws proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick were not enacted last session. They would restrict licensed gun owners to purchasing one firearm per month and also clamp down on people who buy guns legally and then sell them to others barred from owning guns.

Jamaica Plain is better off than some areas in terms of mental health awareness and services. Here, a coalition of 14 local organizations, including Bromley-Heath, four health centers, youth programs and others, called “JP VIP Collaborative,” was formed in 2007 to help local people deal with the trauma that results from violence. The group, which needs continued funding, focuses on helping troubled youths and does violence prevention as well.

Unfortunately, a combination of social stigma, denial and budget cuts for mental health care conspires to keep many professional services, including critical hospital care, away from especially vulnerable teens and young adults.

Now is the time for everyone in JP to actively support local, state and national efforts to promote mental health services and reasonable control of lethal firearms.

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