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Politics

Sen. David Simmons: To Address School Safety, Deal with ‘Culture of Violence’

January 14, 2013 - 6:00pm


Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamont Springs, says until societys behavior is cleaned up, no amount of prevention, additional cameras, fences, security buzzers, lock-down drills or added security -- armed or unarmed -- will help reduce violence at schools.

But as President Obama is set to outline a proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips and increase background checks on gun purchases on Wednesday, Simmons said after listening to education leaders on Tuesday that the focus of any school safety discussion should be improving the mental instability in society.

They cannot stop somebody from sneaking in and trying to kill multiple students and teachers, said Simmons, a member of the Senate Committee on Education. You can make it a lot more difficult for them and you can improve your response in the event they do it.

But the real problem, which people want to ignore, is that we have a culture of violence in our society and were not prepared to deal with it. And until were prepared to deal with that, well continue to have Newtown-type tragedies.

Simmons, whorecalled that when he was in school, students brought knives to campus to show off and trade without the chance of arrest or suspension, agreed a comprehensivediscussion is needed on everything involved with school and public safety.That includes, he said, the impact of the availability of assault weapons.

But to himthe real problem is the "steady diet of violence that is fed to our children that causes them to believe the fantasies they see are the realities they will live."

On Tuesday, members of the Education Committee got updates on campus safety from a trio of county school superintendents: St. Johns County Superintendent Joseph Joyner; Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons; and Wakulla County Superintendent Bobby Pearce.

Their message was that additional preparation for lock down drills may be warranted because of the Newtown, Conn., shooting last month and improved communications between the school and parents about what is happening on campus.

It's not having an armed presence on your campus but having that communication person who they can trust," Pons said.

Joyner said that because every campus is different, a wise investment may be to have police and security experts review what improvements are needed at each site.

"Some schools may need a fence, some may need radios, some may need to change their single-access entry, Joyner said.

Simmons said he expects any legislation out of the committee will be focused on improving preparations and response on campus.

Sen. John Legg, R-Port Richey, who chairs the committee, said he had apprehensions about suggestions made outside the committee to simply arm teachers or others on campus.

"I'm not a big fan of putting more guns on campus, on people who are untrained," Legg said. "The propensity for accidents is great in that area."

Asked about school safety and the need to ban assault weapons, Gov. Rick Scott said on WCTV in Tallahassee that the state had a 40-year low in recorded crime.

Then he added that because of the Newtown shooting the Legislature needs to review school safety procedures.

I think we ought to look at what impacts public safety (have on) school safety and that is what I want to look at and work with the Legislature, Scott said.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, announced he was introducing the Buyback our Safety Act, with Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

The legislation would mean a new $15 million matching grant at the Department of Justice aimed at bolstering local gun buyback initiatives nationwide.

The legislation, HR 227 would also direct the National Academy of Sciences to identify guns most often used in violent crimes and create a pricing scale for purchasing such weapons.

No single policy alone will solve our nations gun violence epidemic, but the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary beckon us to consider any and every option that could make our communities safer, Deutch stated in a release.

The Buyback our Safety Act is a modestly-funded but common-sense proposal that builds on the successes of gun buyback programs under way from coast to coast. It will help local governments that may have been daunted by the cost of financing buyback programs move forward, and by requiring the Justice Department to report on the success of the grant to Congress, it will give us a better understanding of these buyback programs impact on gun violence in our communities.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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