Havre de Grace City Council members sent their sympathies to the people of Newtown, Conn., during Monday's meeting, and several said they want to see mental health and gun safety better addressed as a result of the shooting at an elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults last Friday.
Mayor Wayne Dougherty was emotional after a speech by Police Chief Teresa Walter on the shooting.
"I held and hugged my granddaughter that day, and [in] my years in law enforcement, Chief, our years of working the crisis unit, made no sense back then and it still makes no sense," Dougherty, a former law enforcement officer, said about the incident before adding that residents with potentially troubled relatives can take some action to keep such events from happening.
"We all know there are family secrets and those family secrets can involve a member of that family that everyone is very concerned about but no one says anything and everything will be OK," he said. Adam Lanza, the Connecticut shooter, who also killed himself and his mother, has been described in media reports as a loner who was shy and uncomfortable in social situations and who may have had other emotional issues.
Dougherty said he knows society can be "vicious and stereotyping" for anyone trying to get help. "That's the responsibility of that family to seek help," he said. "Our alarms have to go up more today than they ever have before."
Dougherty said Havre de Grace has taken action to help individuals or families who may been in need of emotional assistance and counseling to receive such help.
"The verbiage 'It can't happen here,' it's just a false sense of security. It can happen anywhere," he continued. "But [for] us, all of us, as a community, there are identifiers and I will tell you right now through our local law enforcement agencies to include our police department, they do have the ability to direct families, to get them assistance, to sit down and talk with those family members who are perhaps seeking assistance for a family member or a close friend."
"Don't ever hesitate to call. It may be the best call you've ever made," Dougherty said, becoming emotional again as he thought of the victims. "God bless those children. God bless the adults. I don't think there's any more that can be said."
Gun control debate
Councilman Joe Smith expressed his "heartfelt sympathy and condolences for the people of Connecticut and the country for having to go through yet again such a horrible crime."
He suggested, however, that the incident brings up the issue of gun control, saying part of the problem is the country has "hundreds of millions" of guns but only about a four-year supply of ammunition, so something could be done to limit the supply of ammunition.
"I am, of course, saddened by this but the sadness has quickly transferred itself into anger, and my anger is not necessarily against the individual [shooter]," Smith said. "My anger is really focused on the insanity of having semi-automatic weapons in the society in the way we do. It just makes no sense."
"I'm all for Second Amendment rights, I'm all for the right to bear arms, but it just seems to me there is no logic to having large numbers of people having the types of weapons that they do that can produce this type of violence in a short amount of time," Smith continued.
"We are better than this. You look around the globe and look at other civilized countries, developed countries, this doesn't exist, and it's time that politicians like ourselves are brave enough to say to those that disagree with us that this has to stop and there has to be a rational way to deal with this, and it has to be a conversation," he said. "We have to have this conversation and it's ludicrous that we don't."
Smith said he is not afraid to be challenged by the "powerful gun lobby."
"Let them do it, because we can't allow the children of this country to be mowed down," he said, adding he believes there have been 70 shootings since the Arizona incident that critically wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, among others.
"It just boggles my mind," he said.
'Painful time for everybody'
Councilwoman Barbara Wagner said she was mulling over what lessons can be taken from the tragedy.
"It's a very painful time for everybody and trying to reflect on it and trying to think, what are we supposed to learn, what are we supposed to get from this," she said. "One thing I saw in media that I thought was an important perspective is, it's time for us to talk openly about mental illness. It shouldn't be a secret. There's a lot of people with problems that can be helped and I think we need to make some improvements within our health care system to help those of us with mental illness."