To the editor:

The RE coverage of the RWHS student protest ("Standing Up for Safety") and Barb Haley's column ("Focus on the Goal: Keep Students Safe") was a nice juxtaposition (March 17-18). Unfortunately, Barb Haley's column did not address the realities of mass shootings in America. If we are going to keep our kids safe, we need to be honest and clear about what problem we are trying to fix.

Haley falsely identifies school violence, school culture and unsafe buildings as the problem. The real problem is access to highly lethal weapons and societal violence spilling over into our schools. In recent years we have seen mass shootings in movie theaters, concerts, churches and even military bases. Her efforts to protect school buildings as fortified islands in a violent nation are misguided. An inclusive school culture is a worthy goal, but irrelevant to the problem at hand.

Further, she claims that mental illness is a root cause of school shootings. This is true but misleading. Most shooters do not have diagnosed mental illness such as schizophrenia or symptoms such as psychosis. Typically you see signs of personality disorders or anger/emotion regulation disorders. People with these illnesses are hard to diagnose, very difficult to treat, and rarely seek psychiatric help voluntarily.

Given these facts, even the best mental health care system would not be effective at stopping mass shootings. Treating depression is again a worthy goal in itself, but preventing a suicidal person's access to guns is more likely to be life-saving.

Mass shootings are only a small part of the gun violence epidemic, but they are the easiest to fix. We know the answer: ban high velocity, high capacity magazine weapons capable of a high firing rate. It's constitutional (D.C. v. Heller acknowledges the right to restrict sale of dangerous weapons) and it doesn't interfere with self-defense, hunting or target shooting in licensed secure gun ranges. Most important, it works. After the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, Australia banned assault weapons and instituted strict licensing rules. There has not been a mass shooting since.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has similar recommendations on how to prevent school children from dying. "The absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents." It "supports a number of specific measures to reduce the destructive effects of guns in the lives of children and adolescents, including the regulation of the manufacture, sale, purchase, ownership, and use of firearms; a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons; and the strongest possible regulations of handguns for civilian use." They took the words right out of my mouth. I hope our legislators will listen to the students, pediatricians, and educators.

Peggy Decker, M.D. (retired)

Cannon Falls