Gun leg­is­la­tion off ta­ble dur­ing school safety hear­ing

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY TYLER JETT STAFF WRITER

RING­GOLD, Ga. — Dur­ing a school safety study com­mit­tee hear­ing, ad­vo­cates said Fri­day morn­ing that school em­ploy­ees should be pre­pared to use a tourni­quet, ap­ply pres­sure to a wound and pack a wound; to pro­vide men­tal health re­sources to stu­dents; to keep their build­ings’ main en­trance se­cure; to run from a shooter, to hide from a shooter; and, if needed, to des­per­ately at­tack a shooter.

One is­sue not brought up? Gun laws.

Hope Mays, a mem­ber of the gun-con­trol or­ga­ni­za­tion Moms De­mand Ac­tion, said the group counted the num­ber of times a speaker used the word “gun” dur­ing the meet­ing at Ring­gold High School. She said they heard the word only three times.

“They talk about men­tal health, but they’ve been talk­ing about it for a long time,” she said. “… There needs to

be some leg­is­la­tion.”

In step with the stark divi­sions between At­lanta and ru­ral parts of the state, Fri­day’s Ge­or­gia Se­nate School

Safety Com­mit­tee hear­ing felt dif­fer­ent from one held June 8 in Sandy Springs, said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee. Dur­ing that hear­ing, sev­eral speak­ers told law­mak­ers to pass leg­is­la­tion mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for mi­nors or peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness to ob­tain a gun.

A teacher at that fo­rum said he and his col­leagues don’t have time to be­come trained armed guards for their stu­dents. To cheers, Sandy Springs Po­lice Chief Ken DeS­i­mone said dis­cussing school safety with­out talk­ing about gun laws is “like talk­ing about the Civil War and not talk­ing about slav­ery.”

But Ring­gold is a dif­fer­ent area. In 2017, the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port ranked Ge­or­gia’s 14th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict (which cov­ers the north­west part of the state) the 10th most con­ser­va­tive dis­trict in the U.S. Sandy Springs is in Ge­or­gia’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, which is the 165th most con­ser­va­tive in the coun­try. Mullis pointed out that vis­i­tors to Fri­day’s meet­ing passed a gun trader on the way to the school.

“In ru­ral Ge­or­gia, in ru­ral Amer­ica, we are pro­gun kind of peo­ple,” he said. “We think there’s an­other mode [for school safety].”

He added, “We’re not go­ing to go out shoot­ing bul­lets, of course. But it seems like we want to have a dif­fer­ent ap­proach here than just take away ev­ery­body’s guns.”

For some­one like Mays, walk­ing into hos­tile ter­ri­tory, the only so­lu­tion is to keep show­ing up, hop­ing to con­vert un­be­liev­ers. She said her nephew, Mark Ro­driguez, died while driv­ing home from his high school grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia, in May 2014, when a stranger opened fire. The shooter killed a po­lice of­fi­cer later that day.

“It’s un­ac­cept­able,” she said af­ter Fri­day’s hear­ing.

With gun laws un­touched, speak­ers at Fri­day’s event brought up other ways they think Ge­or­gia’s schools can be made safer. Ca­toosa County Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Denia Reese said the state should al­low dis­tricts to hire school re­source of­fi­cers, men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and so­cial work­ers with Ed­u­ca­tion Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax rev­enues.

State law re­quires the penny tax to be used only for cap­i­tal im­prove­ments, such as a new au­di­to­rium. But Reese said the money could have a big­ger im­pact if used to pay cer­tain em­ploy­ees. Through a state grant, psy­chol­o­gists visit five ele­men­tary schools in the dis­trict a cou­ple days a week. Reese hopes to one day em­ploy six psy­chol­o­gists for the mid­dle and high schools.

“If I could wish for some­thing right away,” she said, “that’s what I would like to see.”

Mullis, R-Chicka­mauga, said he and other law­mak­ers will push for this tweak to the tax when the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins

in Jan­uary. But the change re­quires a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, which means vot­ers would have to ap­prove it dur­ing the next gen­eral elec­tion in 2020.

Mullis is also in­ter­ested in in­creased fund­ing for “stop the bleed” kits. These in­clude gloves, a tourni­quet, gauze, trauma dress­ing, shears, trauma pads and guides in English and Span­ish. With some state fund­ing, the Ge­or­gia Trauma Com­mis­sion is try­ing to de­liver about a dozen of these kits to each school.

Mullis asked how much it would cost to put a kit in every class­room and every school bus. Dena Ab­ston, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ge­or­gia Trauma Com­mis­sion, said kits cost around $39 each. But that price could drop if the state funded bulk buys.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Mullis said Ab­ston told him the ex­act cost would be about $6 mil­lion.

“We need to start that process,” of get­ting kits in each class­room. “We may not get them all, but we can get more.”


Ca­toosa County School Su­per­in­ten­dent Denia Reese speaks about achieve­ments dur­ing a July 2017 meet­ing with the Ca­toosa County Com­mis­sion, the Ring­gold City Coun­cil and the Fort Oglethorpe City Coun­cil.

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