McDonnell: Arming principals might help

December 18, 2012

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Virginia should consider arming teachers, principals and other school staff in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“I know there’s been a knee-jerk reaction against that,” McDonnell (R) said in a radio interview Tuesday. “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 schools. So I think that’s a reasonable discussion that ought to be had.”

McDonnell made the comments Tuesday morning during the “Ask the Governor” radio show on WTOP radio.

The governor did not actually propose arming teachers and principals. In response to a question about whether that would be a good idea, he said it would be worth considering. Critics pounced, suggesting that McDonnell had not only proposed arming teachers, but mandated it.

“Instead of forcing our teachers to carry weapons and our children to live in fear every day, we should let them focus on teaching and learning and demand that our leaders worry about keeping dangerous weapons off the streets and out of the hands of criminals,” Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, said in a news release headlined: “McDonnell calls for arming teachers, principals in response to horrific CT shooting.”

The governor’s only directive since Friday’s shooting has been to create a task force to review school safety practices.

“The governor has called for a thoughtful and thorough review of Virginia school safety policies,” said spokesman Paul Logan. “His only goal is to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep our children, young people and educators safe while they are in the classroom. Any policy changes will be based on facts, what works and will be made in consultation with education officials, public safety officials and others.”

It is legal to carry concealed weapons in Virginia with a permit, but not at schools. Only law enforcement officers are allowed to do so within 1,000 feet of schools.

“Right now we have a complete ban [at schools], and I’ve been supportive of that,” McDonnell said. “But I think that’s a discussion that is probably timely. Especially, you look at the facts ... in Connecticut, where this person went into the principal’s office and actually killed the principal who was lunging ... at the perpetrator heroically to try to stop him. If a person like that was armed and trained, could they have stopped the carnage in the classroom? Perhaps.”

Also on the radio show, McDonnell was asked if he thought that the time had come to post a police officer at every school. McDonnell was more dismissive of that idea.

“My hope is 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,” he said.

McDonnell had told reporters Monday that, still shaken by the tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren and seven adults, he thought it was “way too early” to know whether stricter gun control laws were warranted.

On WTOP, McDonnell repeated the idea that emotions would have to subside before the country could fully grapple with all of the issues surrounding the attack. But he also sounded content with Virginia’s existing gun-control laws.

The WTOP host asked McDonnell whether he was open to restricting large ammunition clips that allow shooters to “rattle off hundreds of shots.”

“I think reasonable restrictions consistent with the Second Amendment has been what we’ve done in Virginia,” McDonnell responded. “We’ve regulated the time, place and manner of speech, and the same thing with firearms, which made sense. And that’s why Virginia’s crime rate, even though we support the Second Amendment strongly, is relatively low compared to most states. ... And so, we’ve taken that approach: We punish people harshly when they commit crimes, but we don’t favor a lot of prior restraints.”

McDonnell did not completely dismiss the idea of restricting large ammunition clips, but he said he thought the problem was rooted in mental illness and a culture that does not value life.

“The multiple clip issue is one that’s been around for a while,” he said. “It’s certainly a discussion we can have. But if you focus the whole issue on a clip or a particular type of gun, you completely miss the point of issues on mental health, which was the focus for governor [Timothy] Kaine and I in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, and this broader discussion about personal responsibility and community responsibility for helping to raise people who don’t embrace a culture of violence.”

He added: “People that choose to commit crimes are going to find the means in some way.”

Friday’s shooting has prompted some strong gun-rights supporters to shift their positions. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who like McDonnell has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, said in Richmond Monday that he would push for “reasonable restrictions,” particularly on assault weapons.

Limiting gun rights would require an about-face by the General Assembly, which lately has been more inclined to loosen restrictions on firearms. Legislators repealed a 19-year-old law that had limited handgun purchases to one a month. They also stripped localities of the right to require fingerprints from people applying for concealed handgun permits.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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