Gov. Bob McDonnell said this morning that allowing public school employees to carry firearms is an idea worth discussing in the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
McDonnell addressed gun laws and school safety policies during an appearance on WTOP radio in Washington, D.C. He was asked during the program if Virginia should consider allowing teachers, supervisors and principals to be armed inside of school buildings.
“I know there’s been a knee-jerk reaction against that,” McDonnell said. “ I think there should at least be a discussion of that. If people were armed, not just a police officer but other school officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the school. So I think that’s a reasonable discussion that ought to be had.”
McDonnell stopped short of endorsing the idea. But, he said, there have been similar debates about allowing airline pilots to be armed and, after the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech, about allowing university employees to have concealed handguns on campus.
Legislation that would allow college faculty members to carry guns has not advanced far in the General Assembly since the Virginia Tech shootings. Earlier this year, a bill died in a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, a panel stacked with pro-gun lawmakers.
“The key is don’t overreact,” McDonnell said. “Don’t react solely when you’re emotional, because your policies may not be right, but really get to the bottom of what works and what can actually make a difference.”
McDonnell on Monday announced a state plan to review school safety conditions at all levels and the formation of a task force to review school safety policies and procedures. Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber said guns should not be part of a plan to enhance school safety.
“In the aftermath of last week’s tragic events in Newtown, Conn., we need to give careful consideration to measures to keep students safe,” Gruber said. “We don’t believe the answers will come from increasing access to weapons.”
McDonnell said today that he has been supportive of a state law that bans firearms within 1,000 feet of a school. But a discussion of allowing school employees to be armed “is probably timely,” he said.
McDonnell cited reports that the unarmed principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Tried to subdue the gunman before he killed 20 children and six adults at the school.
“If a person like that was armed and trained, could they have stopped the carnage in the classroom? Perhaps,” McDonnell said. “I think these are discussions that rational people should have to see what works to be able to stop school violence.”
McDonnell said he also was open to considering having armed police officers in all schools.
“My hope is that we’re not at that point where, when a little first or second-grader comes into school, the first thing they see is a police officer with a gun,” McDonnell said. “But, obviously we’re going to do, first and foremost, what’s right for the children and right for public safety. And there’s a broad range of things. It’s not just those traditional school safety things. But we’ve got to go back and have another discussion about mental health and public safety and how those intersect.”
– Michael Sluss