State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) and Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67) covered many subjects during last week’s town hall meeting. But the topic of guns in the schools proved to be the hot-button issue of the evening, quickly inflaming passions on both sides.
“I’m concerned about school safety, and the idea of giving principals guns is absolutely ludicrous,” said Tina Wallace of Oak Hill. “We really need to address the problem of mental illness, so if there’s a bill [about arming principals], please vote against it.”
Cindy Burgett, an eighth-grade civics teacher at Rachel Carson Middle School, agreed. “There are eight or nine different entrances at my school,” she said. “Our first line of defense are the school secretaries. My job as a teacher is not to provide military defense.” She also said assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips should be outlawed.
But Carol-Anne Kaye — who identified herself as a Cub Run Elementary teacher and a NRA member — had a different point of view. “We have glass doors in front of the school and windows in our classroom,” she said. “As a teacher, I’m willing to be armed and trained because my students and I are sitting ducks. We don’t have an SRO and have no means of defense.”
But a man in the back of the room said, “Arming everyone isn’t a solution. We need better I.D. checks of people purchasing guns and no more assault weapons. People come to Virginia to buy guns, and it’s a disgrace. Going into an arms race is lunacy.”
Centreville’s Joe Samaha, whose daughter Reema was killed at Virginia Tech, said there’s not just one fix, but a multi-faceted approach involving both hardware and software. “The hardware deals with locks on doors, bulletproof glass, metal detectors at schools and SROs or someone trained with a gun,” he said. “But the long-term solution, or software, is the work we have to do in our schools with our students.”
He said this involves “creating safety nets for students with issues, implementing cutting-edge programs in schools to address students’ social integration and dealing with mental-health issues at a young age. So teachers and counselors need to be trained to address these issues and implement these programs.”
But, said Samaha, “These programs and our mental-health programs need to be adequately funded. Tim Kaine put $32 million into Virginia’s mental-health system when he was governor, but it’s since been depleted and not re-budgeted to the level it needs to be.”
“This is about embracing and compassion — it’s about fixing our culture long-term,” he continued. “If we don’t pay for the fixes now, we’ll pay for it later with the lives of our children — like we’ve been paying at Aurora, Virginia Tech and Connecticut.” Samaha also refers people to the Actively Caring for People Web site, www.AC4P.org, to see how such programs may be successfully implemented.
Returning to the weapons issue, Stephen Vandivere of Centreville’s Cabell’s Mill community, said, “I’m concerned with whether the students’ perception of guns in the school will be so distracting that they won’t learn.”
Burgett said Rachel Carson eighth-graders have discussed it and don’t want guns in their school. “They were afraid kids would steal the guns,” she said.
Sean Duffy, also an FCPS teacher, agreed with her. “I’m adamantly opposed to guns in the schools,” he said. “Even though violent crime is down, we’re still killing 34 people a day in America [with guns]. So there’s a Connecticut massacre disbursed around the country, every single day.”