Sunday, March 18, 2018

Rep. Rob Sampson - Op-Ed - School Safety Concerns

Rep. Rob Sampson
As state legislators, we are often charged by our constituents to put politics aside and work across party lines to find solutions.  I can think of no goal worthier of such cooperation than securing the safety of our schools.

Earlier this month, I was saddened by the reaction of our Governor and the state’s federal delegation to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  Governor Malloy even stated that lawmakers who refuse to enact stricter gun control laws “have blood on their hands.”  Other Democrat elected officials (and many press outlets across) the country have engaged in similar rhetoric for the sole aim of painting their political opponents as somehow responsible for the heinous crimes of a troubled young man.

This is an absurd position since no one, certainly not members of any political party, or even the NRA has any culpability in this or any similar crime or tragedy.

Additional restrictions on law abiding firearm owners will not prevent similar future acts of violence nor make us any safer.  The truth is that lawfully possessed firearms in the hands of “good guys” (for lack of a better term) are a very effective deterrent to crime and terrorism.

Ever since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, I have advocated for constructive and non-partisan solutions to reduce the potential for similar events.  Connecticut reacted after that terrible act by passing the strictest gun control laws in the country, including bans on "assault rifles", restrictions on magazine capacity, and universal background checks.  Irrespective of any other value those policies may have, none of those things have made us even the least bit safer.

We need to look in other places so I offer this list of recommendations to address the issue of protecting our school students and their teachers from the threat of violence.  

Common sense dictates that prevention should be paramount in cases of public safety.  My proposals are focused in this area.

1)      Starting in the late 1950s in California, there has been a concerted effort by states to move away from institutionalizing
individuals with chronic mental health issues to community-based facilities or group homes.  This only accelerated after the repeal of the federal Mental Health Systems Act in 1981, essentially removing federal funding for community mental health support systems.  It would be wrong and unnecessary to stigmatize any group of people, least of all those struggling with brain health.  However, there is a small portion of society that would benefit greatly from supervision.  Connecticut is one of the few states that has no Assisted Outpatient Commitment program for those with a history of repeated hospitalizations and arrests.  Essentially, this is a way for society to keep track of and monitor those that need it, both for their benefit and ours.  Consider the Florida case and the repeated interactions the shooter had with law enforcement.  Such a policy, if properly followed, might have been the missing ingredient in prevention.  We should implement an Assisted Outpatient Commitment policy immediately.

2)      We need to establish a trigger for action when someone publicly (as in a social media post) threatens violence against others.  Like our risk warrant statute, this would require probable cause and would lead to detaining the person and submitting them to a mental health review.  The goal is early identification of potential threats and to intervene before something happens.

3)      Place school resource officers in all our public schools.  Our society has chosen to place armed security in almost every public place:  government buildings, sporting events, even museums.  Why are we not protecting our children the same way?  Where this policy is in place, the on-site officer typically becomes a role model to students and a deterrent to all kinds of negative behavior (e.g., illegal drug use). 

4)      Allow properly licensed and trained permit holders to carry firearms in schools, subject to policy set by a local boards of education.  This does not mean arming every teacher or placing guns in the hands of untrained people.  Just getting rid of the restrictions on where licensed permit holders can carry would increase public safety.  The mere presence of resistance prevents crime, and the ability to have someone armed and capable on site in the case of a crazed attacker simply makes sense. 

It’s understandable why it’s standard in political spin to blame certain types of firearms when tragedies occur – it’s easy.   However, it makes no sense to shift the blame for a person’s criminal behavior on to an object or worse, a group of people that are not involved whatsoever.  

I call upon Governor Malloy and others who continue to push for more bans on guns, even after enacting the most far-reaching gun control in the whole country just a few years ago, to stop playing politics and instead work constructively to minimize the potential for further tragedies.

There are countless factors behind such events, and I am realistic enough to know that we may never be able to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.  However, we can see that the constant and repeated attacks on the rights of law abiding gun owners have little to no effect.  Some of these recommendations are already being utilized to varying degrees in our state and across the country.  My hope is that this is the direction we take, along with the vigorous prosecution of existing laws for the illegal use and possession of firearms.  By concentrating on prevention and intervention, we can make a difference. 

Rob Sampson

State Representative

Conservative Caucus Chairman

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