Area leaders react to NRA's response to Connecticut killing of school children

cnudi@bradenton.comDecember 22, 2012 

MANATEE -- The National Rifle Association's response to the massacre of 20 elementary school children and six adults in Connecticut drew comments from several local community leaders.

At a news conference Friday where reporters were not permitted to ask questions, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, called for armed guards in every school to protect children from gun violence.

Acknowledging that the idea may have merit, Manatee's community leaders said there are additional steps that should be taken to prevent tragedies like the one Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.

"That is only part of the answer," said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube. "We need to look at all the schools to make sure they are hardened" with proper protective barriers.

Steube said the schools have mostly done a good job in following recommendations his Special Weapons and Tactics team made about five years ago.

"But it looks like the school in Connecticut had all the right protections," he said. "So yes, a school resource office is a step in the right direction."

But the sheriff said he thought the other point LaPierre made was just as important.

The NRA spokesman said the nation needs to look at the violence in video games, television and the cinema, and what effect it has on leading people to commit such heinous crimes.

"I know from talking and dealing with kids today," Steube said, "some have no value for life."

He said much of this can be attributed to violence in popular culture.

Palmetto Police Department Deputy Chief Scott Tyler agreed.

"Especially when children are exposed to this without positive adult supervision, it desensitizes them," Tyler said.

In his opinion, he said, some children seem to be more violent today.

"There's been an increase of homicides committed by young men," said the 18-year veteran of the Palmetto force. "I can't say it's caused from watching violent videos and movies, but it must desensitize them.

Karen Carpenter, chairwoman of the Manatee County School Board, said the NRA is correct when it says there is too much violence in the media.

This issue and others will be discussed in future meetings of the school board, Carpenter said.

As for taking steps to protect schoolchildren in Manatee County, interim school Superintendent David Geyler has already scheduled new reviews by the sheriff's office SWAT teams to make sure the schools are safe, she said.

"We'll look at those recommendations when they come in," Carpenter said.

She noted two other issues that need to be considered when asking why someone would shoot and kill children.

"We have to look at assault rifles and the kinds of ammunition," she said. "These were made to kill people, they're not meant to go after game when hunting."

Also, there has to be a discussion about mental health care.

Christine Sket, who has two children in Manatee schools, said making sure the mental health system is funded is very important.

The incident in Newtown "goes back to prevention of mental illness," Sket said. "All the reaching out to the community (for help) that was done by that young adult."

As for putting armed school guards in every school, she said they would have to be highly trained and that would be expensive.

"Currently the state does not fund the schools the way the constitution says," said Sket, who is the volunteer director of the Gulf Coast Region of Fund Education Now.

The state constitution requires the Legislature to provide a safe and secure environment for children to learn.

"Education is the last thing the Legislature considers in the budget," Sket said. "I think it will take a change in the mindset that children are important."

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