Sandy Hook Commission releases draft of final report

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HARTFORD – The commission charged with investigating the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school has released a draft of their report.

The commission will vote on the report Friday. The document is dedicated to the victims of the shooting and includes a link to the website created to honor the children and educators killed.

The summary of the report does not name the shooter Adam Lanza, but instead uses the initials A.L. It starts with a time line of what happened the day of the shootings.

The first series of recommendations concern safe school design and operations, including the making all classroom doors able to be locked from the inside and all exterior doors to be equipped with hardware that allows a full perimeter lock down.  It also calls for a study to be conducted regarding issuing keys to substitute teachers. The report also said school custodians should be part of the studies as they have a wealth of knowledge and experience about the buildings and grounds. It calls for the governor to submit recommendation to the General Assembly  for legislation requiring school systems to establish a school safety and security committee. Those committees should include teachers and administrators.

The Commission calls for improvements in access control,  and video surveillance that can be monitored on and off site. It also makes recommendations about improvements  in school communication systems that can be used in conjunction with emergency services personnel.

The second section of the report concerns firearms. Saying it “does not seek to deprive citizens of their right to hunt, engage in target practice or own a firearm for self-defense; nor does the Commission seek to rewrite the Constitution of the United States or centuries worth of legal decisions,” the report said the commission is deeply concerned about the proliferation of weapons that were specifically designed for military use during wartime.”

The Commission believes that ―assault weapons like the AR-15, as well as large capacity magazines (LCM‘s) often used with those weapons, have no legitimate place in the civilian population. The Commission finds that the cost to society of easy civilian access to assault weapons and LCM‘s vastly outweighs the benefits of civilian ownership. By contrast, the Commission finds that the significant benefit to society from eliminating civilian ownership and possession of assault weapons and LCM‘s  can be realized with only a minimal burden on persons who want to hunt, engage in target practice or use weapons for self-defense. They remain free to engage in those activities with a vast array of long guns and handguns. In short, the Commission‘s first goal is simply to limit the possession and use of weapons designed for wartime use to members of our military services and law enforcement personnel.

The commission also listed recommendations from their interim report and their status, some of which were taken up by the legislature. One of the items recommended prohibitions on a weapon that could fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. The legislature instead banned specific semi automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns instead. The commission also weighed in on the safe storage of weapons. screening of people purchasing firearms, coordinating the efforts and criteria of the Firearms Review Board and the local issuing authority and creating a judicial authority to remove firearms, ammunition and carry permits from person who are subject to a  restraining orders.

The report also called for state-wide peace officer status to any sworn law enforcement officer to respond to a major incident in another jurisdiction at the express invitation of the requesting municipality and limit the “self-dispatch” by public safety or EMS resources should be prohibited to prevent over response. Other regional unified command operations should be established integrating  local and state resources to respond to major events of great consequence including Public Safety dispatch centers being integrated into major event response plans along with minimal staffing requirements.

The commission also called for establishing at statewide donations management plan as in the days and weeks following the shootings, Newtown was overwhelmed with donations of gifts which were “essentially dumped” and the town was ill-equipped to distribute, store or distribute.

The third set of recommendations concern mental health issues, saying, “Carefully considered efforts to diminish the stigma that attaches to mental disorder and its treatments must play a central role in systemic reform.”

The report says the system’s focus on “illness” rather than health limits its efficacy and reach due to being reactive rather than proactive. It calls for age appropriate programs and services across the lifespan and treatment of the children and adults alike.

Positive child development requires access to effective health care, including programs and services associated with behavioral health, but our obligations to children do not end there. We must help children learn pro-social skills and strategies to cope with distress, loss, frustration, and disappointment. We need to ensure that children have sustained and meaningful relationships with caring adults, including supportive and nurturing relationships in schools, other sites of child congregate care, and throughout our communities.
Treating mental health as the absence of mental illness works no better than treating physical health as the absence of physical illness. We need instead to promote healthy ways of living, encourage the adoption of health-promoting habits (such as healthy eating, exercise, stress reduction, etc.), and help children learn how to – and want to –avoid risky behaviors.

The report makes recommendations for instituting family centered care programs that can addresses problems before they cause disruptions. It also calls for schools to create risk assessment teams to gather information and respond to children who present a risk. It also focused on the lack of resources and personnel to treat mental health issues. “Indeed, to meet the expanding needs of children, adults and families, it will be essential to increase the number of clinicians working throughout the system.” It also called for insurance to cover the full range of services and programs, including residential, vocational, and occupational  drop in services. it also cited the stigma of mental health as being a significant barrier to getting treatment.

Media coverage of mental health issues was also a concern to the commission.

Moreover, recent research confirms that the inordinate focus on mental illness in media coverage of mass shootings clearly increases stigma toward people with serious mental illness and provides fodder for discriminatory policies and practices.
Experts who study mental health stigma agree that media campaigns must incorporate two types of messages to combat stigma effectively: “see the person” messages and recovery – oriented messages. Both draw attention to the person behind the label and refute gloomy, and potentially self-fulfilling, prognosis.
The report also cited leading research that mental illness underlies somewhere between 3% – 5% of violent acts committed in the United States.
Studies demonstrate repeatedly that while untreated psychiatric illness in a narrow  subset of the population may increase the risk of violence to a significant degree for that subset, a diagnosable mental illness is a very weak predictor of interpersonal violence — particularly compared to other factors such as substance abuse, a history of violence, socio – economic disadvantage, youth, and male gender.

Read the full report here.