More than a week after a gunman shot and killed 26 people — including 20 children — at a Connecticut elementary school, the nation now is discussing how to prevent such atrocities from ever occurring again.
Ideas vary from more strict gun laws and improved mental health access to arming teachers and providing every U.S. school with trained security guards.
But amid contentious debate there is some consensus: Something must be done to protect schools, local legislators said.
“When something like this happens, people try to come up with something that’s simple — ‘we’ll regulate guns; or spend money there or pass legislation there [but] it’s a complex problem and the solution is going to be equally as complex,” state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said. “It’s easy to say, ‘We’ll just pass a law to outlaw the type of gun that this person used in this shooting and that will be the end of these things.’ We know from experience, it’s not. Unfortunately, we live in a world where bad things happen and there’s not enough paper and not enough laws to stop people from doing bad things to each other all the time.”
One recently debated approach to curb potential mass shootings is reinstating the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. The law prohibited the manufacture of semi-automatic firearms — or assault weapons — for civilian use.
Following the shooting, it appears a majority consider assault weapons to be a danger to the U.S., according to a national survey. Nearly two-thirds — 65 percent — of respondents in a PEW Research Center poll think that allowing citizens to own assault weapons makes the country more dangerous. In a separate survey, 55 percent of adults think there should be a ban on semi-automatic and assault weapons, according to Rasmussen Reports. Fifty-three percent support the ban of high-capacity ammunition clips that can hold more than 10 bullet, and 67 percent oppose a total ban on handguns, according to PEW.
Stanley Wiles, Ottawa, a Democrat who earlier this year unsuccessfully ran for the Kansas House of Representatives, said the Newtown, Conn., shooting should prompt members of the U.S. Congress to reinstitute the assault weapons ban.
“I think we need to have more gun control,” Wiles said. “We ought to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which [former President Bill] Clinton put into effect. ... I’m just sick and tired of seeing every three or four weeks these multiple-clip guns and rifles killing kids, and I think it’s time for an assault weapons ban. [Such guns] don’t do anything for hunters. They’re only used for one thing — killing.”
While some have advocated limiting the accessibility of certain weapons, others have called for different approaches to check violence. Providing adequate mental health care, for example, is among the priorities Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he plans to focus on during the 2013 legislative session.
“One of the things I want to look at is whether or not we’re providing sufficient mental health services,” Brownback said Friday, according to media reports. “I think it’s going to get a lot more interest now because I think the country’s just a lot more serious about dealing with this after Connecticut.”As certain groups promote improved mental health services, the National Rifle Association broke Friday its week-long silence regarding the recent tragedy, which was the second-most deadly school shooting in U.S. history. In a written statement, Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the NRA, asserted that national media glorifies mass-murders and inspires more violence.
“How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark?” LaPierre said. “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”
During the Friday morning press conference, LaPierre advocated a “National School Shield Safety” program, in which a trained and armed security guard would be placed at every school in the nation. The Kansas Rifle Association quickly agreed to the plan Friday, lauding its potential to stop more mass shootings at schools.
“The [Kansas Rifle Association] will do everything possible to support and assist in the promotion of this program,” Patricia Stoneking, Kansas Rifle Association president, said. “It is the right approach to stopping violence in our schools. Well-trained, qualified and armed security personnel is the right response to school security.”
But not everyone was on board with the armed security officer idea.
State Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, agreed that someone with a firearm would help stop and prevent mass shootings, the Associated Press reported, but he said a killer would likely try to take out an officer first.
In addition, Kansas teachers union lobbyist Mark Desetti said the NRA’s proposal would turn schools into armed fortresses and Kansas Association of School Boards official Mark Tallman said the move could prove expensive, according to the AP.
Funding could indeed be among the key obstacles standing between the national program and success.
In 2010, there were 138,925 public, private and post-secondary schools in the U.S, according to the most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. If only two resource officers were employed at each school, the plan would call for the training and arming of about 277,850 guards. While guards’ expenses would vary from state-to-state, the plan could exceed $22.73 billion each year, when calculated using the annual cost — $81,811 — of the Ottawa school district’s most recent school resource officer, according to Herald archives.
In addition to providing armed guards at schools, some have indicated support of arming school teachers and administrators. Although he’s uncertain of the best course of action, state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, said he would consider a plan that arms teachers for the safety of their students.
“In theory sure, but I can see the downfall of [arming teachers and administrators], too,” Jones said. “[But] I would have to do more studying on that. ... I know that if you train somebody right with a gun, then I see it as a good thing, not a bad thing.”
What’s more important, Jones said, is that Kansas emphasize mental health funding. Without adequate funding, mental health centers such as the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, 2537 Eisenhower Road, Ottawa, could not offer vital services to the community, he said.
“Our mental health has to be funded,” Jones said. “Every place I’ve gone, they’ve talked about [mental health funding] and how hard it is. It’s a dire need.”
In an unscientific, online Herald poll, about 24 percent of respondents said thorough background checks and mental health screenings were the most important changes needed to reform U.S. gun laws. About 36 percent of poll respondents said the nation’s gun laws are fine as they stand.
In the coming Kansas Legislative session, Finch said, he’s optimistic school safety will be discussed. While the state’s reduced budget could present challenges, Finch said, seeking adequate funding for school safety now will be among some of his legislative plans.
“I certainly hope it [is discussed],” Finch said. “I’ve thought about how we might be able to enact legislation to at least assist schools with the costs of resource officers. I think is would be cost prohibitive to have the state fund school resource officers in every school and in the past it’s largely been done through federal grant funds and some state money. But I plan to reach out to some of our federal representatives to see if we can look at partnerships to add funding and help local government to put school resource officers back in our schools. I think that would do more to protect and take care of our children than almost anything else.”