Norwalk lawmakers study school gun violence at forum

David Bernstein mimics a photo that got a young boy a psychological examination, explaining to attendees at Tuesday's Gun Safety Legislation Forum the reasons behind rare school violence tragedies such as that in Newtown.
David Bernstein mimics a photo that got a young boy a psychological examination, explaining to attendees at Tuesday’s Gun Safety Legislation Forum in Norwalk the reasons behind rare school violence tragedies such as that in Newtown.

NORWALK, Conn. – The multi-faceted problem of school gun violence got a four-hour look-see Tuesday night at Norwalk City Hall in a forum inspired by the Newtown School shootings last month.

David Bernstein, a forensic psychologist and founder of Forensic Consultants LLC, educated state legislators, Norwalk officials and about 30 members of the public as he spoke at length about threat assessments, the reasons why young people turn into mass murderers and the things that can be done to prevent carnage.

The forum was organized by Norwalk Common Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large), who said she wanted to see that the “sixth largest city in Connecticut is very much a part of this discussion.”

About 13 members of the public also spoke, making sure their voices were heard, as most were against additional gun legislation.

“A gun is an inanimate object. It cannot actually do any harm by itself,” said Michael Donnelly. “… We’ve been on the receiving end for so many laws that don’t get us anywhere.”

Bernstein brought up one case study over and over again – a teenaged boy who had sparked concern when he took a photo of himself with a gun to his head and matched it with the words, “Happy suicide.”

The boy’s school expelled him, but told his parents he could come back if he got a pediatrician’s recommendation. Bernstein called that a CYA (cover your a–) maneuver, and was grateful the doctor had been careful with the case, one month before Newtown.

“The kid knew more about guns than I did,” he said. “I mean, it was amazing what this kid knew about weapons.”

He knew all about Columbine, too; was obsessed about people who had bullied him and had made a booby-trap using information obtained from a website, saying, “It made a very satisfying boom,” according to Bernstein.

Most perpetrators of mass murders at schools are “injustice collectors,” he said, holding onto “every little slight” for months before saying, “I’m not going to be a doormat anymore.”

Schools need threat-assessment teams, school resource officers and defined procedures, he said, so that nobody feels picked on or singled out when there is a problem, he said. Zero-tolerance policies haven’t worked, as they deter people from coming forward, he said. “No one wants to be responsible for that kid getting kicked out of school,” he said.

He said parents who are worried about their children might see if they have an interest in school shooters – do they see them as heroes or wrong or right?

“Everybody should be monitoring their kids’ websites,” he said. “I don’t care. They’re in your house, monitor their websites. The web is a door, a portal into your home. You’re careful about who you let in your front door, be just as careful about who you let run all through your web. Super important.”

Schools need a culture of, “If you see something say something,” he said, with an avenue for anonymous tips. There are cries of “it’s too expensive,” but a web-based phone number with voice mail box is less than $50 a year, he said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School could have benefited from one low-cost improvement, he said. “It takes a long rifle a lot of time to shoot through a solid-core door,” he said, adding that they are available at Home Depot.

Steel frames on the doors and ballistic glass would make every classroom a safe room, and the kids would not notice they are in a fortress, he said.

“There are ways of making our schools very secure,” he said, “preparing for the outside shooters, and dealing with the inside threats before they get to an actionable place. You’ve just got to be clever about it. A little training goes a long way.”

Legislators said they thought the presentation was very helpful, but there was a debate.

State Rep. Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk) talked of his experience as a school expulsion officer, examining scores of cases, from people who brought a weapon to school through ignorance to those who were seeking revenge. “If we were to have risk assessment for each person, we’d be bankrupt,” he said.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) said one school resource officer at a school like Norwalk High School wouldn’t make a “panacea for safety,” as there are four floors and different areas – and besides that, what about libraries, playgrounds and temples?

He said lawmakers are trying “not to have knee-jerk reactions,” and want to craft thoughtful legislation.

“I’m reluctant to do things that will just make people feel better, rather than make them safer,” he said.

State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk) wanted to encourage positive behaviors, asking, “How do we use this Newtown tragedy as an opportunity to do something we need to do, change the culture?”

But Board of Education member Jack Chiaramonte said the only way to stop someone bent on shooting school children is to have armed guards in schools. “I thought it was ridiculous go to ball game, Grand Central, you go to an art museum, you go to a bank (you see armed guards),” he said. “What are we protecting there? Art?”

The discussion prompted thoughtful reactions from the gun advocates in the room.

“Crimes are committed by people who don’t know the laws, don’t care about the laws,” said Steve Rudolph, who said schools should be made as safe from bullets as they are from fires.

He said, “Let’s look at real legislation to help.”


From left, Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy. state Rep. Gail Lavielle, state Rep. Chris Perrone, state Rep. Bruce Morris and state Rep. Toni Boucher listen to David Bernstein Tuesday evening in City Hall.
From left, Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy. state Rep. Gail Lavielle, state Rep. Chris Perrone, state Rep. Bruce Morris and state Rep. Toni Boucher listen to David Bernstein Tuesday evening in City Hall.



4 responses to “Norwalk lawmakers study school gun violence at forum”

  1. Anna Duleep

    Here is the website for The Association of Threat Assessment Professionals: http://www.atapworldwide.org/

    We are lucky to have a regional board member of ATAP right here in Norwalk! Dr. Bernstein had in fact invited me to attend his ATAP meeting on Monday night, but I was of course busy awaiting my turn to testify in Hartford! Thanks to Dr. Bernstein for volunteering his time, resources, and invaluable expertise.

    My heartfelt thanks to the full Norwalk delegation to Hartford, plus Sen. Toni Boucher, for their thoughtful participation. Thanks also to Rep. Terrie Wood, who was quite busy co-chairing the Mental Health subcommittee public hearing in Hartford yesterday! I look forward to hearing from her at tonight’s full bipartisan task force public hearing: Newtown High School, 6 pm. – midnight. Those who wish to submit online testimony may do so here: http://www.cga.ct.gov/ASaferConnecticut/

    Thanks also to the following local elected officials and community leaders who attended our Gun Safety Legislation Forum:

    Norwalk Fire Chief/Governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Member Denis McCarthy;
    Norwalk Police Chief Tom Kulhawik;
    Norwalk Police Deputy Chief David Wrinn;
    One Million Moms for Gun Control, Fairfield County Chapter Founder Kara Nelson Baekey;
    Norwalk Common Council Majority Leader/Chairwoman of the Health, Welfare, Public Safety & Emergency Management Committee Michelle Maggio;
    Norwalk Board of Education Member/CCDL Member Jack Chiaramonte;
    NAACP Norwalk Chapter President Darnell Crosland, Esq.;
    Councilman (& upcoming Minority Leader) David Watts;
    Norwalk Common Council Minority Leader Warren Pena;
    Mrs. Heidi Godleski, mother of murder victim Neil Godleski (who was shot to death while riding his bicycle home in Washington, D.C.); and
    Various members of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (http://www.ccdl.us/) who took a chance on continuing this conversation with me following our testimony in Hartford during the wee morning hours! I appreciated their suggestions and offers of gun training/education very much. I look forward to continuing this conversation in the coming months.

    If I’m not mistaken, I also spied our Common Council President Doug Hempstead in the audience. Councilmen Hempstead, Pena, and Watts made room in their schedules to attend after an important Planning Committee CDBG hearing.

    I am proud of everyone in the greater Norwalk area who proved we can continue to work toward finding common ground as well as common sense solutions to issues surrounding gun violence! 🙂

    -Councilwoman Anna Duleep

  2. Tim T

    A complete waste of time

  3. BARIN

    Thank you Anna, the more informed we are the better. I recall sometime back there was discussion of placing some type of gunshot locator in high crime area’s. Maybe it would help get illegal firearms off our streets.
    What happened to that plan?

  4. Anna Duleep

    @Barin: I don’t know. I’ll ask at the gun buyback this morning.

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