“Our country is great because we have those freedoms, and guns don’t kill, people do — you know that old phrase? — and so I’m not for more gun control at all to stop this,” Lee said.
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins, Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood, and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews made similar points. Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin could not be reached by press time.
“Say you do away with the guns,” Jerkins said. “Well, what’s next? They’ll come up with some kind of bombs to do something with in the classrooms. I mean, there’s so many ways to kill people that we can’t stop from happening.”
Jerkins said one way to combat the problem is by identifying people with mental illness such as the 20-year-old suspect, Adam Lanza, before they commit the murders.
“In Georgia we don’t have anywhere to send somebody like that,” Jerkins said. “There’s a friend of mine that’s got a son that’s capable of doing some serious things, and as soon as they get him in somewhere for 30 days they turn him back out, and he’s fine as long as he takes his medicine,” Jerkins said. “But if he don’t take that medicine he’s liable to do anything. He’s could do something similar.”
Bacon, now 64, recalled the days he was in college.
“I went down to Milledgeville (Central State Hospital), and it was amazing how the state took care of so many people,” Bacon said. “They just sort of put them in a building. There’re ways to help them, but it costs money and it costs time.”
Bacon said an emphasis on safety should trump individual rights in such cases.
“In some ways I really think if somebody has a mental disease or is a threat to our community, I think for one time maybe you just throw their rights out the window and say, ‘what are we going to do best for our community,’” Bacon said. “This deal about ‘they’re not doing anything,’ ‘there was no reason for us to be concerned with him,’ that’s bull crap. There is a concern and there’s got to be something done. The guy that shot the congresswoman (former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords), I still picture his face. He was whacked out.”
Powder Springs Mayor Pat Vaughn believes the rise in shootings stems from the violent entertainment children are exposed to.
“My personal thought is this: I wish there was a way that we could do away with the violent TV programs and the violent movies,” Vaughn said. “Our children are being raised in seeing so much violence.”
Vaughn, soon to be 65, said growing up in her day was worlds apart from how it is today.
“We had ‘Andy Griffith’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ There was no violence on TV,” she said.
Vaughn said returning to traditional values is essential for the health of the country.
“I think if we don’t turn back to our Christian ways — I’m sorry, that’s exactly how I feel — then our society dies,” she said. “Things that were not acceptable many years ago are just very acceptable everyday things today. If something doesn’t change — and I wish I did have the answers, but I don’t — I’m afraid it will be worse. We’ll see more and more of it.”
Vaughn was the only mayor who said she would consider some form of gun control.
“I think tighter gun control if someone does come in to buy the assault rifles and the assault things that there should be more checking out of that person,” she said.
At the same time, Vaughn acknowledged that someone intent on obtaining a gun was going to get it regardless of the restrictions.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb), who chairs the Health & Human Services Committee in the Georgia House, said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1960s mandated that unless the patient was going to kill themselves or harm someone else they could not be kept against their will in a psychiatric facility.
“I’ve had several calls since I’ve been in the Legislature of families who are really scared of their grown children, and had tried to get them care when they were younger and all, but these young people were exhibiting behaviors where they really needed to be away from people and have treatment, and the law won’t allow them to be kept in those situations against their will,” Cooper said.
As for what’s causing the mass shootings, Cooper said it’s a combination of things.
“It’s my understanding that the services have used video games where you kill fake people to desensitize soldiers to killing,” Cooper said. “And if you grow up shooting fake people in a troubled mind, I guess you don’t really perceive that it’s a living thing, so I think that’s a problem. I think it’s been glamorized in the movies. I think it’s years and years of not paying attention to mental illness. I think it’s a lot of things. Mental illness is serious, and it certainly needs to be treated, and I think it is a real problem across the country and in Georgia.”
Allegood said he spent Monday meeting with the principals of the schools in his city.
“One of the things that we encouraged all of our principals to do is for the staff to be ever vigilant,” Allegood said. “Work really hard to encourage the staff that anything that doesn’t look right to call 911 because our response time to our schools is about one minute, one minute in a half. So what’s to be done in the short term is to create this heightened awareness and vigilance to be able to access our police department if something doesn’t look or seem right.”
Lee believes the solution is turning to a higher power.
“A lot of the conflict and issues that face our nation are because of the declining belief in God, frankly,” Lee said.
In addition, Lee said teachers and administrators must undergo rigorous background checks to be able to mentor children, yet those checks are not in place when it comes to entertainment.
“When it comes to games and movies and songs there’s no background checks done, there’s no quality control done, it’s just freedom of the press, you can do whatever you want,” Lee said. “And I think that’s out of balance, and I think good people need to come together and identify good solutions so that we can move toward a more moral, accountable person and individual overall as a society than where we are.”
Failure, he said, is not an option.
“Whether it’s feasible to me right now in my lifetime, you know, we didn’t get here overnight, we can’t fix it overnight, so we need to turn the direction of the ship and head in another direction,” Lee said. “I will continue to stress the importance of the community and the business community and the faith-based community coming together and figuring out how best to provide an environment of growth for the children of Cobb County.”