River Dad – An Unfunny River Dad

I have spent the last few years using this column to express my thoughts, concerns, and experiences being a parent of two young children in the Rivertowns, in a hopefully humorous manner. However, as River Dad, I cannot continue to write this column and ignore the tragic events which took place in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, and these events are in no way humorous.


When I learned what had happened, my heart broke. For the victims, for the survivors, and for our innocence. There have been other horrific mass shootings, of course. Too many and there have been other horrific mass shootings at schools.

But Sandy Hook is different, and I think we all know that.

As some of you may know, I am the President of the Elementary PTA of the Tarrytowns. I am in our schools constantly and know many of the children and teachers in all the elementary grades, not just the grades of my children. When I heard about Sandy Hook, my thoughts immediately turned to our own students. What if it had happened here? I was and remain devastated by the thought, as, I know, are many of you.

If we’ve learned anything about these all-too-frequent events, it is that it CAN happen here. It can happen anywhere. After Columbine, Virginia Tech or Aurora, the people of Newtown, Connecticut, just like everyone else, told themselves that something like that could certainly never happen there. Yet it did. It can happen anywhere.

The question before us is what can we do about it? How do we stop it from happening here, or anywhere else?

What makes Sandy Hook even more tragic and horrific is that from a safety standpoint, they seem to have done everything right. Connecticut has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation. The guns used in the shooting were obtained legally. Sandy Hook Elementary had a new security system in place (one very similar to the security system we have in place in our schools in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow), which made it almost impossible to just wander into the school unannounced.

It didn’t stop him.

Right now, there is a lot of talk about common sense gun regulation on a federal level. The ideas of reinstating the assault-weapons ban, installing background checks for all gun purchases, and outlawing the sale of large-capacity ammunition are being kicked around. I pray that our nation has the strength to move forward with these efforts, despite the fact that none of these would have completely stopped Sandy Hook from happening. It’s no longer about stopping Sandy Hook, it’s about stopping the next one.

There have always been deranged people who will harm innocents – the number of these monsters has not grown. What has grown is the technology, allowing them more options to cause more and more damage and to hurt more and more people. Old rules and laws are no longer sufficient to protect our children; they need to be quickly and continuously adapted to the times. I doubt that any of the Founding Fathers imagined a civilian owning a semi-automatic weapon when they wrote the Second Amendment. They were thinking of muskets and rifles and the need for citizens to defend a country with no standing army from British soldiers. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Well regulated. It’s right there in the Constitution. People who own guns need to be “well regulated.”

Maybe now America will fulfill that particular requirement of the Constitution.

I’m currently reading a series with my own 7-year old son in which the main characters have arrived at what is called “the Last Safe Place” on their journey. In many ways, I feel that’s what elementary schools were. They were the last safe place for our children. We’ve had shootings at a high school, shootings at a shopping mall, shootings at a movie theater. Thousands are shot in the supposed safety of their own homes every year. But the elementary schools were the Last Safe Place. And now that’s been taken away from us.

I refuse to accept that this is simply the new reality. I am taking action and making my voice heard on this important matter. I have written to my elected officials and demand that they act to pass common sense gun legislation. You are all River Dads and Moms and I invite you to join me.

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About the Author: David Neilsen