Sandy Springs residents were joined by a state representative in voicing support for City Councilmember Andy Bauman’s request that the city find ways to reduce gun violence and violent crime in the city in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting.
Bauman’s suggestions included having council approve a resolution to influence state and federal legislation on gun safety, as well as support mental health intervention and treatment and other violent crime causes.
“This is where we want to move beyond thoughts and prayers,” Bauman said. “We talk about protected neighborhoods. The ultimate responsibility in protecting neighborhoods is public safety.”
Councilmembers voiced their approval of Bauman’s request that City Manager Eden Freeman and the city attorney get together and report back to the council with some strategies, opportunities and resources for reducing gun violence and dealing with violent crime in the city.
“The question is, ‘Are we doing everything we can to make Sandy Springs the safest city as possible?’” Bauman asked.
Sandy Springs resident Tricia Gephardt said it is about gun safety and gun violence, and she doesn’t want anyone to forget that. Her two children who attend school in Sandy Springs experienced an active shooter situation several years ago.
“And I was one of the moms outside the school crying and hoping that my kids were OK as they were barricaded in the door,” she said.
Resident Leslie Mullis said her middle daughter is a kindergarten teacher at Dunwoody Springs Elementary School in Sandy Springs.
“When I first heard the news of the Uvalde shooting, all I can think of this could have been Maggie, and she would have been the only thing standing between that rifle and her five-year-olds in her classroom,” Mullis said.
All elected officials need to take meaningful action, she said, as people feel isolated, disconnected, and on their own.
Rep. Shea Roberts said she decided to run for office in 2018 after her middle school child came home and described an active shooter drill at her school. Two weeks later, 17 students were killed and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in a mass shooting.
“And I realized it had been six years since we watched babies being killed at Sandy Hook and not a damn thing had changed,” Roberts said. “And here we are four years beyond Parkland. And again, our babies [are] being killed and nothing has changed.”
Resident Dontaye Carter challenged the council to have the courage to think about these issues much deeper. He wants them to take a stance as strongly as those taken against gang violence. Gangs aren’t shooting up schools in Sandy Springs, he said.
“What I’m concerned about is that troubled young person who wants the world to hurt as much as they are,” Carter said.
Melanie Couchman, co-founder of Sandy Springs Together, said most of the murders seen over the past couple of months were by disaffected, isolated and ignored youth. The city needs more green space for kids to come and play, she said. They need a youth center where boys and girls can go with supervision. Empty space in shopping centers or offices could be rented and used.
“And we can do that in conjunction with our first responders. They are great role models,” Couchman said. “We have a lot of kids in the city that don’t have parents, don’t have two parents and don’t have role models.”
Mayor pro tem John Paulson, presiding over the Jan. 7 meeting in Mayor Rusty Paul’s absence, noted Fulton County designated June as Mental Health Awareness Month.
“Mental health plays into this quite a bit. But again, that’s one of those things. Sandy Springs doesn’t have a health department necessarily. This is a county function,” Paulson said.
Councilmember Jody Reichel suggested community members effect change at the voting booth.
“I think that we’re at a turning point, that we need to help slow violent crime, especially gun violence, as much as we can,” Councilmember Melissa Mular said.
Councilmember Tibby DeJulio said he regularly asks Police Chief Ken DeSimone to have officers speak to neighborhoods about safety.
“I continually emphasize a couple of things: Close your garage door, lock your car and call 911. Our police will be there, and they’ll take care of it,” DeJulio said.
Councilmember Melody Kelley asked that any city action helps the families living in multifamily housing communities. She said the council recently received statistics that showed a good amount of violent crime occurs in those communities.