By Jo Ellis
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
On Saturday morning, I found Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan and Assistant Chief Randee Kaiser clearing tables and chairs from Memorial Hall as the last of 865 children were leaving the Police Department’s annual Christmas party.
Kaiser said it set another attendance record.
“Of course, we invite more every year,” he said. This year, invitations went to 1,260 children to make their Christmas a bit brighter.
“Precious Moments donated a stuffed animal for all the children,” he said. “Everybody gets to leave here with a cool stuffed animal.”
For the past several years, Duke Mason and his band have not only entertained at the party, they have held a pre-party concert to raise money for the children’s treats and gifts. Those funds are supplemented by public donations. Kaiser described the community’s support for the party as “awesome and greatly appreciated.”
But what I really wanted to talk to Chief Dagnan and Kaiser about was a far darker subject. I wanted to get their thoughts on the previous day’s murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at a school in Connecticut, and how it relates to the safety of our own Carthage children.
A “totally uniformed” officer is on duty every day at both Carthage High School and Carthage Junior High. “Totally uniformed” means they are armed. At the middle school, a DARE officer is in attendance about half the time, Dagnan said.
Additionally, the schools have their own safety practices that include locked school doors with no one admitted until being identified as a legitimate visitor. The Police Department has held intruder drills and lockdown drills to train the teachers.
“Many teachers have taken advantage of this, so they do know what to do in the event something would happen,” Kaiser said.
“We have drilled in the schools, invited teachers to see what it would be like to hear gunfire,” Dagnan said. “We’re as ready as we can be, and the schools have great security in place. But, if someone is willing to give his life, you can’t stop it.”
Both officers emphasized their belief that causation factors for mass murderers involve mental imbalance and our violent culture rather than the accessibility of a weapon.
“I am a huge advocate of responsible gun ownership,” Kaiser said. “An overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible. I think we want to spend our energy on what’s causing this in the first place.”
He agrees with others who contend that exposure to violent music, games and movies at an early age is a factor.
“One hundred years ago, kids weren’t exposed to blood, gore and mutilation,” he said. “In the ’50s and ’60s, teenagers could go to a hardware store and buy dynamite, blasting caps, pistols. We didn’t have these problems then. It’s pretty much the violent culture.”
Dagnan said that of the more than 100 murder cases on which he has worked, only one involved an assault-type weapon.
“It’s usually a hunting rifle or old pistol that granddad had,” he said.
Kaiser said he has never worked a case involving an assault rifle; often, the weapon has been a blunt object. A mass murderer, he said, is a highly motivated individual with a well-planned operation.
“He is going to inflict as much death and injury as he possibly can,” he said. “We need to change our culture so that they believe it’s not acceptable to inflict wanton damage on people.”
Defending the Constitution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms “is my job,” Dagnan said. “When someone comes in wanting a gun, I question why they want to own a gun. I tell them they need to be trained in the use of a gun, how it works, that it should be locked up at home, and let them know what their responsibility is.”
Officers, I agree with everything you say. In my opinion, a person’s mental state is the primary factor in mass murders, followed closely by our violence and drug culture, and finally, easy access to weapons. That’s why we need stringent enforcement of who may own a gun and what kind.
I still believe the fewer guns in this world, the better. An unbalanced, emotionally distraught person can attack you with a knife, a rock or a hammer. But he can attack only one person at a time, and you possibly could survive. With a gun, there’s rarely ever a second chance at life.
Gun control may not be the best answer, but it can be a mitigating factor.
ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.