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TV Smart Talk - Do Guns belong in PA Schools?

Written by Nell McCormack Abom | Feb 13, 2013 11:34 AM

What is the best way to protect our children in school and to keep guns out of the hands of those who want to harm them? Those are central questions Pennsylvanians face as we respond to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that claimed the lives of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut last December. The answers to those questions often depend on one’s view of gun control, violence and the Second Amendment. We’ll examine some of the gun-safety measures under consideration by state lawmakers on Smart Talk, Thursday night at 8 on witf TV.  Join the conversation!

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President Obama reiterated his call in this week’s State of the Union address for a ban on military-style assault rifles and limitations on high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks for all gun sales. Vice President Joe Biden appeared at a community forum in Philadelphia on Monday to tout the president’s plan. Springettsbury Township Police Chief Thomas Hyers participated in the forum and stressed the need for a national template to deal with “active-shooter incidents.”  Chief Hyers will share his first-hand experience with gun-wielding violent criminals and his observations on best practices in school security.

Gov. Tom Corbett proposes to privatize the state liquor system and pour some of the estimated $1 billion in proceeds into a block-grant education program. Some of that money could be spent by schools on safety initiatives, including hiring armed guards. Pennsylvania lawmakers propose a raft of gun-related bills, including one that would allow teachers who are properly licensed and certified to carry a firearm at school. Shortly after the Connecticut school shooting, Mike Strutt, superintendent of the Butler County Area School District, considered his options. According to a report in The Washington Post, “He looked out his office window at the snow-covered trees of western Pennsylvania and imagined a gunman approaching one of Butler County’s 14 schools, allowing the attack to unfold in his mind. In came the gunman, past the unarmed guards Strutt had hired after Columbine; past the metal detectors he had installed after Virginia Tech; past the intercom and surveillance system he had updated after Aurora.

“Strutt stood from his desk and called the president of the Butler County School Board, Don -Pringle. “This could happen here,” Strutt said. “Armed guards are the one thing that give us a fighting chance. Don’t we want that one thing?””

National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre drew praise and derision for recommending the arming of school personnel to combat the threat of violence. The NRA has launched “The National School Shield,” a program to train volunteers and recruit retired military and police officers to patrol America’s public schools.  NRA member and Harrisburg businessman Josh First, who helped launch the boycott of last month's Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show over a tactical-weapons ban, will join our panel.  First opposes new laws that would curb access to guns by law-abiding citizens.  He supports arming school personnel who are properly trained in firearms.

Shira Goodman, executive director of the gun-control group CeaseFire PA will offer her thoughts on public-school safety.  She supports President Obama's gun-control bills but does not favor arming teachers.  Goodman points to public-opinion research, like the most recent Franklin & Marshall College Poll of registered PA voters that shows majority support for a number of gun-control measures, including universal background checks (94%). A Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics poll released this week shows a majority of Pennsylvanians reject arming teachers. According to the poll, 56% oppose allowing teachers trained in the use of firearms to carry guns in classrooms. The Mercyhurst poll found strong majority support for laws that limit ammunition magazines to a maximum capacity of 10 rounds (60%), ban private citizens from possessing armor-piercing bullets (56%), require background checks for all gun sales including guns sold at gun shows and by private sellers (86%), increase the penalty for gun trafficking (93%), and improve mental-health screening for young people (79%).

We welcome you to the conversation. Call in live at 8 p.m. Thursday to 1-800-729-7532, post a comment to this article, or to Facebook or Twitter, or send an email to smarttalk@witf.org.

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