The battle to reform gun control laws will soon emerge in Congress.
In response to the recent mass shootings that have ravaged the nation, President Barack Obama announced a proposal Wednesday to reform gun control laws. The proposal to Congress included both action items for legislators as well as executive actions that the president plans to enact unilaterally. Local school administrators have also taken steps to increase security, so far resisting calls to arm teachers as a defense against violent attacks. According to North Carolina law, it is illegal for any students or employees to carry firearms on public and private school or university property.
Twenty children were killed in the Newtown, Conn. school shooting in December, and 12 were killed and 58 injured in the July shooting in Aurora, Colo. The following national outcry, however, may still not provide enough momentum to ensure policy reforms, Philip Cook, senior associate dean for faculty and research at the Sanford School of Public Policy, wrote in an email Monday.
“Public opinion is in support of these measures, but that is unlikely to be enough to overcome the [National Rifle Association] influence,” Cook said.
Among the proposed reforms is a requirement for criminal background checks for all gun purchases, a restriction on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, the reinstatement of a strengthened version of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, $4 billion to keep 15,000 police officers on the street and increased focus on and financial support for expanding mental health programs for young people. Rodney Berry, assistant principal for sixth and seventh grade at Durham School of the Arts, said he fully supports the new emphasis on mental health, adding that change must happen on a national scale.
Change will take time and effort, though, given the current low level of federal funding toward such programs and the slow progress in improving criminal records and mental health records, Cook noted.
“We have a long ways to go,” he said.
There has been widespread support for maintaining the status quo in regards to gun control laws over the last 10 to 15 years, though such support is declining in light of the recent shootings, said Kristin Goss, associate professor of public policy and political science. She added that the country remains very divided about comprehensive gun control reform, but the majority of American voters would support specific laws.
Even so, given the partisan split regarding gun control laws, it seems unlikely that Congress will enact assault weapons bans or universal backgrounds checks, Cook said.
“The House Republicans are not going to oppose the NRA position, which is dead set against any legislation along those lines,” he said.
Given the dominance of the Republican Party over North Carolina’s government, any reforms to gun control laws in the state will likely swing toward loosening current regulations rather than strengthening them, Cook added.
On the local level, opposition to the status quo is gathering momentum. Durham Mayor Bill Bell, along with 800 U.S. mayors, teamed up with the lobbying organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns to enact new restrictions. The demands include requiring criminal background checks for all gun buyers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“This has happened too many times,” Bell said in a joint statement one month after the tragic shooting in Newton, Connecticut. “We’ve got the message, the question is, have the people in Congress got the message.”
Guns in schools
Obama’s new proposal includes a provision that would finance programs to train school officials, as well as police officers and first responders, to respond to armed attacks.
The NRA took a different approach, proposing to increase the number of armed security guards on school campuses. To date, 18 states across the nation—including Connecticut, the site of the recent mass shooting that was the second deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history—allow adults to carry a loaded firearm on school campuses, sometimes with a requirement of permission from the school, NBC reported.
Allowing teachers to carry firearms introduces a host of new risks, however, including questions of security and control of the weapon, Cook said. A scenario involving a student stealing a teacher’s gun to use against others is not unimaginable, especially given that teachers often have items such as mobile phones stolen, he added.
“It’s a terrible idea to arm teachers…. The net result may well be worse than the current situation,” Cook said. “There would be the added risk with no benefit.”
Goss called into question the efficacy of arming teachers—who are oftentimes minimally trained—with guns, pointing to studies that show that trained police officers hit their targets only a fraction of the time. Placing armed and untrained civilians in a crisis situation could result in dangerous consequences, she added.
In Durham public schools, only county sheriffs and deputies are allowed to carry firearms, and even they are expected to follow very strict guidelines, Berry said.
In response to the recent mass shootings, schools across the district revisited their security plans to ensure the highest safety for students and faculty, Berry said. Only minor changes—such as increased visibility and support for teachers from the administration and other security personnel—were made to DSA’s plans.
Ultimately, however, no security plan can provide protection against an armed intruder, Berry said.
“You can put together a great security plan, but when someone is really bent on doing something, they can find the weaknesses in the plan,” he said.
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