Haddonfield residents gather to talk about gun violence

Borough Hall was filled with residents last Thursday who were eager to discuss an issue that has found its way into schools across the country.

Borough Hall was filled with residents last Thursday who were eager to discuss an issue that has found its way into schools across the country. The Haddonfield Human Relations Commission hosted a panel of experts willing to shine light on one of today’s most relevant topics: gun violence.

“It is plaguing our schools, communities, neighborhoods and cities,” moderator Johnathan Maxson said. “Hopefully tonight by listening to multiple perspectives … residents can feel reassured.”

At the meeting, experts in their fields were chosen to offer information. The panelists included Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt; behavioral medicine psychologist at Cooper Hospital Dr. Anastasia Bullock; Board of Education President Adam Sangillo; local activist group Moms Demand Action members Shani Nuckolsand Amy Lackpour; Haddonfield Police Chief Theodore Stuessy; and New Jersey General Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald.

“These shootings are no longer once every couple years,” Nuckolsand said.

She said reports show more school children than military personnel have fallen victim to guns this year and it is important to have an open discussion.

Echoing Nuckolsand’s sentiments, Lampitt discussed some of the ways the state is tackling the issue.

“There are pieces of legislation now that are moving through the Legislature” Lampitt explained.

The legislation will focus on reducing the maximum capacity of ammunition; codifying regulations to find a justifiable need to carry a handgun; requiring background checks for private gun sales; prohibiting the possession of ammunition capable of penetrating body armor, and more.

Lampitt said in addition to new legislation, current laws are being worked on and will continue to be refined.

Bullock discussed overall strategies for parents to talk with their children about gun violence and what is happening across the country.

Bullock advised parents to “adapt” the conversation to their kids and limit exposure to media networks, as that may cause anxiety.

If children become visibly affected by a recent act of gun violence, it is important to maintain a normal routine in the household and for kids to focus on extracurricular activities. She encouraged parents to reassure children their school is safe and the school staff is working with community entities and parents to create a safe network.

Parents should also model “confidence and positivity,” according to Bullock.

“Kids are sponges and soak up everything,” Bullock said.

It is also crucial for parents to discuss possibility versus probability when discussing school safety with their young ones.

Sangillo explained the protocols in schools to help keep students safe. Sangillo said witnessing gun violence in a school is his “biggest nightmare” and being elected board president has changed his mindset.

“It has changed my perspective to a parent of four children to a parent of 1,600,” Sangillo said.

Sangillo said response time is phenomenal because all of the schools are close together. Although proximity plays a role in keeping students out of harm’s way, it is important everyone does their part in keeping schools safe by making sure everyone is checking in and locking the door behind them.

In the question and answer portion of the meeting, residents asked questions about school safety and what new gun legislation would mean to citizens.

“What are we doing as far as staying current with classroom security?” resident Ryan Adams asked. He also was curious to see the best protocol the students should take if they happen to be in a classroom at the time of a shooting.

Sangillo said every door has a lock, and Stuessy weighed in, saying the police department is constantly having live drills with officers to make sure they are prepared and respond efficiently. The drills are “never ending” and intended to save lives if a shooting were to occur.

“There’s no question that there’s been violence, shootings, this kind of behavior is not acceptable,” Hank Bauer acknowledged. Bauer said it is important for the panel to consider the Second Amendment.

“You don’t take freedom away from law-abiding citizens because some bad actors don’t know how to behave or are suicidal or mentally ill,” he said.

Greenwald said he believes in the Second Amendment but also believes in common sense gun reform. According to Greenwald, if one transports and handles a gun properly, the individual should not be concerned their gun may be confiscated. Greenwald said those interested in purchasing a gun should go through a lawful gun store and advised potential gun owners not go online.

“We think it provides a sense of security,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald said he does not believe it is necessary for any resident who is not in law enforcement to have access to armor piercing bullets and that legislation has been backed by every group other than the NRA.

“I am a member of the NRA,” Bauer said. “The NRA has a problem with people that want to take their guns away.”

In response, Greenwald explained the legislation would not infringe on a law-abiding citizens’ right to have a gun.

“Each of these pieces of legislation that we have introduced, not one of them has taken a gun away from anyone in this country,” Greenwald said. “While you may be a minority in this room, your voice is equal to everybody else.”

For those interested in attending the next Human Relations Commission meeting, the schedule can be found on the borough’s website.