The Health and Welfare Council of Long Island held a forum Thursday on addressing community violence. Two Long Island women shared their stories of losing sons to gun violence. Newsday TV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

"It's painful. It's scary. It's messy," but tackling the issue of "escalating" gun violence locally and across the nation needs a groundswell of action and collaboration across all sectors of society, Rebecca Sanin, president and chief executive of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, told a roomful of human service agency officials, educators and government leaders on Thursday.

The impact of everyday gun violence on communities and mass shootings, such as those in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, was the subject of a two-hour panel discussion hosted by the health and welfare council at the Holiday Inn Plainview. It drew more than 100 people.

The five panelists were Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr; Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of Family and Children's Association, a nonprofit human service agency in Garden City; two mothers who lost their sons to gun violence: Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son Scott Beigel, a teacher, was killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida; and Stephanie Draine, whose son Andre Graydon was killed on New Year's Day 2014 outside a Hempstead bar; and Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen.

"We need to vote for who is going to help us change the laws, the federal laws especially, so we have a blanketed law across the United States for reasonable gun safety legislation," Schulman said in an interview. She is the founder of the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund, which sends hundreds of at-risk youth to summer sleep-away camps.

Toulon noted he first became sheriff the same year the Parkland shooting occurred. "Four years later, I'm still talking about the same tragic incidents that are occurring in our country."

Toulon said the sheriff's department had partnered with the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation to provide threat and risk assessment for schools and businesses. He said the department also had a program to encourage students to notify "trusted adults" if they see something on social media or hear students make violent threats.

Clemensen said in an interview: "After Parkland, after Sandy Hook, after Columbine, we continue to respond based on the circumstances of the last incident." No one thing is the solution, he said. It takes "a little bit of everything: teaching children how to be safe in school, it's school hardening, social and emotional health, and also gun safety."

Reynolds said during the panel that "this is preventable. In virtually all of these cases, when it comes to mass shootings, there's a well-worn trail of behaviors that have emerged beforehand … The problem is we don't always recognize them."

Draine focused on the emotional trauma families face. "I lost my 26-year-old son. He left behind a 16-month-old son. I can't even express the pain that I was feeling at that time."

Her foundation, Life After Loss A.N. D. R. E (Ability to Navigate Depression, Recovery Through Empowerment), aims to connect families who are gun violence victims with the support they need. "A traumatized person does not know what's there for them."

Gun violence "should not be ignored … We are suffering across the nation. It's in our own communities. It's in our backyards. We have to change the narrative," she said.

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