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I’m a gun owner and willing to talk about gun violence in schools. I don’t think we have a ‘gun problem.’

  • Author: Mark Somerville
    | Opinion
  • Updated: March 12, 2018
  • Published March 12, 2018

The ADN's Steve Meyer has written several opinion pieces on firearm ownership and firearm control that I have found interesting, including his latest piece published on Feb. 2.  Although I disagree with some of his conclusions, the piece was thought provoking and he offered up a challenge for discourse.

Mr. Meyer challenged us to discuss the ownership and use of firearms in our country. He uses the term "gun problem," which I disagree with. He writes that concerns over the violation of civil liberties, and the right to own and bear firearms are mantras of the extreme, as are opinions that current firearm laws are sufficient. I counter that these views are not extreme, but are central to our republican form of government and to the discussion he challenges us to.

Each time our country experiences a mass shooting, we are flooded with statistics and rhetoric about firearm use, ownership and responsibility.  I can't express how sick I am for the cries that we must do "something," as if nothing has been done to date.

The Parkland High School Board of Education, administrators and teachers took many of the right steps to protect their students from a dangerous classmate.  They expelled the student, after what I would assume were many attempts at counseling. They informed local police, who assigned an officer to the school.  They informed teachers and staff and even distributed photos of the expelled student and they held active shooter drills. However, those efforts failed in their execution. I only know what I read on various news sites, but despite the school's planned response, a gunman was able to casually walk across campus from a car carrying a cased rifle, enter the school through unlocked doors, remove the rifle from the case and spend a full six minutes shooting people before casually walking back out of the building. I won't presume to judge the actions or inactions of those responsible for guarding against this tragedy, but the school district will need to evaluate what went wrong and work to correct any identified lapses.

Meyer questioned why this "deranged" shooter was not swept down upon before this tragedy and forced into treatment, his guns confiscated and held until he could later prove he was sane. I agree the shooter should have been actively contacted by the FBI and, if they found credible evidence of a threat, should have taken legal action. However, at the risk of entering one of Mr. Meyer's extremes, our Constitution does protect our rights from unwarranted search and seizure and to keep and bear arms. I am personally unwilling to give our government the authority to determine us unfit without due process and then force us to prove our mental fitness in order to regain our rights. That doesn't mean the FBI or local law enforcement were powerless to take preventative action.

There is nothing unconstitutional about contacting a person who has made violent threats over social media and directly to others. Nor is it unconstitutional to investigate and monitor said person. Our government spends millions of dollars on Special Council Mueller's Russia probe. Whether you agree with the probe or not, it seems those millions would be better spent on funding some overtime for FBI agents or local police to keep a credible threat under surveillance.

To answer Mr. Meyer's challenge, restricting the rights of all Americans is not the answer to solve the issue of mass shootings in our country's schools. School districts, their boards, administrators, teachers and the community at large are responsible for the safety of their students. Learning cannot happen in an environment of fear where students duck and roll every time a book is dropped or a locker door is slammed? A cry to require all schools to have armed guards and armed teachers is unrealistic. However, all schools should have these options. I am not opposed to allowing some teachers to be armed, if the district feels this is needed, but this must be a highly cautious approach, for what message does this send our kids?

Protecting our children against a credible threat is different than protecting against a random one. For me, the random threat is what schools must be prepared for at all times and then take more directed action when a credible threat is identified. We employ school nurses, aides, custodial staff, counselors, education coordinators and all sorts of staff for the support of schools. Why don't we employ doormen (whether armed or not) to monitor school entry through locked main entries. Why aren't all side entrances locked against unauthorized ingress and alarmed for emergency egress? Why is there a stigma against some armed security? Although my conservative side can't say money is no object when it comes to student safety, I can say we as stewards of our students should better prioritize that safety.

There is far more to discuss and debate on providing a safe learning environment for our K-12 kids. I agree with Mr. Meyer's call for that discussion, and lament that this latest shooting has turned him against his previously more open view of firearm ownership. The question at hand is not how to solve the 'gun problem', but how to keep our schools and all places of gathering safe, without compromising the inalienable rights all Americans share. What scares me more is the thought of how many children will die if those rights are given over to government discretion.

Mark Somerville lives in Copper Center. He has lived in Alaska since 1984 and is president of the Copper River district school board. He's a lifetime NRA member, has taught hunter education, firearm safety and outdoor education, and is a concealed-carry permit holder. This column represents his own point of view.

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