Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has entered the fray on gun control, telling a news radio station he thinks it's time for "a reasonable discussion" to be held on allowing school officials to be armed in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre of young children.
"I know there's been a knee-jerk reaction against that," the Republican said Tuesday on WTOP radio, according to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch
But he added, "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'd [have] been an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the school."
McDonnell, who is talked about as a possible GOP presidential contender in 2016, in the past has supported a ban on bringing firearms into schools, with an exception for law enforcement. But he raised the possibility in the radio interview that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed last Friday, may have been able to stop the shooter, Adam Lanza, if she had been armed as she ran towards him before he reached the classrooms.
"If a person like that was armed and trained could they have stopped the carnage in the classroom? Perhaps," McDonnell said.
McDonnell's comments drew immediate criticism from the head of the state teachers union. Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Association, agreed that "careful consideration" should be given to more measures "to keep students safe."
But she told the Times-Dispatch, "We don't believe the answers will come from increasing access to weapons."
State Sen. A. Donald McEachin, chairman of the Democratic Senate caucus, also criticized McDonnell for suggesting the idea.
"The governor should know better than to suggest that arming citizens will solve anything." McEachin told the newspaper. "Maybe the governor should focus on solutions that could actually have an impact, like banning the high-capacity magazines used to inflict horrific violence upon countless American cities."
Another Virginia Democrat, U.S. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, labeled the governor's comments "dangerous thinking."
McDonnell said he agreed that a discussion about the "multiple clip issue is one . . . that we can have." But he said more attention should be focused as well on "issues of mental health," which he noted was a key element of state efforts to come to grips with the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that killed 32.
McDonnell, as many governors have, also called this week for a statewide review of school safety procedures in the aftermath of the tragic Newtown incident.
He said it was important for state officials not to "overreact" and but to pursue possible changes in policy that really work and "can actually make a difference."
Following his interview, a spokesman for the governor said 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."
At least one Republican lawmaker, however, plans to introduce a bill in the legislature early next year that would require local school boards to arrange for public school personnel to undergo firearm safety and competency training.
"I'll bet there are people who have concealed-carry permits in most every school in the commonwealth," state Del, Robert G. Marshall told the Times-Dispatch. "They'd be the ones to volunteer to get certified."
Under his bill, Marshall said the school districts would decide which employees would be trained in the use of firearms.
But Marshall's bill might also require some tinkering with the current state ban on firearms in schools.
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