The issue of gun violence in American schools was front and center Saturday morning at the second Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Coffee of 2018 in the commission chambers of Ottawa City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.
The morning featured a packed audience, city commissioner Sara Caylor as the morning’s moderator, and the full Franklin County Statehouse delegation — Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, and Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker.
After a brief update given by each legislator, the trio fielded questions from Caylor and audience members on a broad range of topics. Gun violence in American schools, sparked by the killing of 17 students and educators in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, was a central point of the discussion.
“After the tragic events in Florida on Valentine’s Day, President Trump indicated on Thursday that he is in support of giving teachers bonus pay if they agree to carry a gun while teaching at a school,” Caylor queried lawmakers. “Gov. Colyer further indicated that it ‘may be a good solution’ to give bonuses to teachers who carry guns. Please respond.”
Finch disagreed with Trump and Colyer’s take on the matter.
“I think our teachers have enough to do in the classroom without being pressed into being security guards,” Finch said. “If we are going to pay teachers bonuses for anything, it should be for performance in the classroom and for results that our children display, and it should not be for serving as de facto security guards for the school.”
Finch shared his own experience of receiving a call from his daughter after Ottawa High School was placed on lockdown in April 2017. It was later revealed a firearm had been found in a student’s backpack.
“It is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t had that phone call, and who hasn’t had to talk to their child in that situation,” Finch said. “We are in the midst of a series of national tragedies around school shootings in this country, and I believe that it is an adaptive problem, meaning that it does not have just one simple solution. There’s not a sound bite that’s going to solve all of this. It’s going to take a lot of action on a lot of different fronts. But I don’t believe that arming teachers and having them act as security guards is going to be the cure all for this problem, nor do I believe that the state should spend its education dollars on bonuses for this sort of thing.
“I would disagree with the president and the governor on this front.”
Tyson said she had heard of arming teachers, and called for action on the topic.
“I have heard of a funding mechanism for teachers who are interested in taking [firearms] courses,” Tyson said. “Instead of a bonus, the classes would be paid for. I know that is being bantered around a little bit.”
Tyson also mentioned mental health as central to the discussion.
“This audience knows that mental health is a big issue for me, and it always has been,” Tyson said. “I know every time one of these tragedies comes up that we talk about it. But we need to give it the attention that it deserves. And not just talk about it. We need action.”
Jones affirmed his commitment to Second Amendment rights, and said the president may have made his comments hastily.
“This goes back to our Second Amendment, and our Constitution, to our God-given right to protect ourselves,” Jones said. “I think the president has maybe said a lot of things quickly without thinking it all through. But at the same time, without a doubt, whatever we have to do to make sure that our children are protected I would be for it.”