A Virginia lawmaker who wants to arm teachers and school personnel in the wake of last week's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., is one of many officials throughout the country who are calling for new laws to keep such a tragedy from happening in their home states.
Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, added his name this week to the growing list of state lawmakers who say they will sponsor bills next year aimed at preventing a tragedy similar to the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, in which a gunman last week killed 26 people, including 20 children, along with his mother and himself.
The proposals have run the gamut from pro-gun rights to pro-gun control, ranging from giving school employees and everyday citizens more freedom to carry handguns as protection against potential shooters, to tightening controls on sales of guns and bullets in an effort to keep violent or mentally ill people from obtaining guns in the first place.
"We just want to make sure that our children are safer," Mr. Marshall said. "I have grandchildren in public schools in Virginia, and I want them to be in a safe environment."
Lawmakers in states including Alabama, California, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia have called for new gun laws in reaction to last week's shooting, and governors in some states have proposed commissions to look into the issue.
Proposals — which have centered largely on preventing school shootings — have come predictably along party lines. Republicans are seeking to bolster the rights of law-abiding gun owners as a way to prevent or deter shootings, while Democrats are seeking tougher gun-control laws and to make access to high-powered weapons more difficult.
"The Second Amendment protects people's rights to use guns for self-defense but American citizens have no rightful reason to be carrying Uzis and AK-47s," said Maryland Delegate Jamin B. "Jamie" Raskin, Montgomery Democrat, a constitutional-law professor. "We don't have a right to nuclear weapons and bombs and hand grenades, and those are arms."
Mr. Raskin and several other Maryland Democrats announced this week that they will sponsor bills seeking to ban assault weapons, limit the allowable capacity for detachable magazines, strengthen requirements for handgun permits and allow state police to inspect the inventory of gun dealers to prevent illegal sales.
In California, Democrats are proposing stronger gun laws in their state, which are already among the nation's most strict and include an assault-weapons ban and 10-day waiting period.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Thursday that he plans to propose a gun-control package when his state's Legislature kicks off next month that would strengthen the state's existing ban on assault weapons.
"I don't think a legitimate huntsman is going to say, 'I need an assault weapon to go hunting,'" he told WGDJ-AM radio in Albany. He added that "in this state, the assault-weapon ban has more holes than Swiss cheese."
On the other side, conservatives argue that the answer is not to tighten gun restrictions, but to beef up security and relax gun restrictions in hopes that potential shooters will be less likely to attack in places where other people might be armed.
Mr. Marshall's proposed bill would allow school districts to designate and train a few armed employees in each school. Its announcement came days after Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell suggested that lawmakers look into lifting a ban on guns in schools and begin arming employees.
Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, issued an executive order Thursday establishing a task force to look into school and campus gun safety.
Similar proposals have popped up in other states, including Missouri, where state Rep. Eric Burlison is one of many Republicans calling for guns in schools and arguing that advertised gun-free zones turn occupants into sitting ducks rather than protecting them.
"You don't create a safe environment by banning guns from an area," Mr. Burlison told the Kansas City Star. "All you're doing is creating an area that is a focal point for criminals with guns to concentrate."
Many states are wading into the gun issue and suggesting that concrete action is still months away, but some local school boards have acted to amend their policies.
In western Pennsylvania, two school districts received a court order last weekend allowing police officers to carry guns inside schools on Monday in case there was a copycat shooting.
Harrold, Texas, a small community in the northern part of the state, has allowed its school employees to carry guns since 2007. Gun-carrying employees must obtain concealed-carry permits and undergo crisis training.
Dave Workman, spokesman for the Bellevue, Wash.-based Citizens Commission for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said he supports measures to put armed employees and security personnel in schools, but said he also thinks lawmakers should look to increase funding for mental health programs to diagnose and treat potentially dangerous individuals.
"You have to keep this in perspective, that there are a lot of other issues in play," he said. "Instead of looking at guns, we need to take a pretty hard look at that."
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