COMPLETE COVERAGE: Texas Talks of Arming Campuses | States Rethinking Mental Health Cuts | California School Gets Assault Rifles | Connecticut Convenes Gun Panel | Biden Takes Gun Message to Pro-Gun Virginia
(WBEN) Behind the scenes, there's more opposition again to the state's new gun laws, but that doesn't mean there's any movement . In their session yesterday New York lawmakers didn't touch the issue.
But a Western New York Assemblyman who has launched the latest petition drive calling for repeal, says the issue will be raised by the end of March.
"This is just the start. Today is the day we draw a line in the sand," says Assy. David DiPietro, an East Aurora Republican, who pledges statewide public hearings as part of the drive to repeal the law.
"I am ready to do that. I am working with some senators in the majority to get something put on the books in the next 60 days," DiPietro tells WBEN
Several groups meeting in Albany in the next few days are talking about opposition to the gun measures, even if the legislature didn't during the first day of it's latest session Wednesday.
Gannett's Albany bureau says it is a big issue at the State Sheriff's Association meetings in Albany today, with all sorts of questions about the second amendment.. and some on mental health issues.
The Albany Times Union's Jimmy Vielkind tells WBEN the state's conservative party is likely to dive into it this weekend, trying to decide if it becomes an issue in endorsements.
Di Pietro has an online petition drive with about 3,500 signatures calling for repeal. SEE IT HERE. Sen. Kathy Marchione has an earlier similar effort with 109,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.
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Assy. David DiPietro
New York is not like California where citizens can petition to repeal a particular law or measure. But even Democrats in favor of the gun rule have suggested that changes to it are a priority in the coming weeks, and at that point the petitions are likely to be brought forth as a show of public opinion.
Texas Talks Of Arming Campuses
This week's gunfire at a Houston-area college prompted new calls Wednesday for allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into Texas college buildings and classrooms as a measure of self-defense.
Texas lawmakers already are considering a bill that allows concealed handguns in college classrooms. A similar measure failed in 2011, but last month's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., had already helped renew the debate over safety in schools, and Tuesday's gunfire at Lone Star College had supporters looking to rally more support.
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who filed the Campus Personal Protection Act last week, called the Lone Star College shooting a prime example for the need for his bill.
"It affirms what we know is true: When you disarm law-abiding citizens that we ought to trust, we make them defenseless," Birdwell said.
The prospects for the bill's passage are uncertain in a session that began Jan. 8 and runs until Memorial Day.
So far, 14 senators, all Republicans, in the 31-member Senate have signed on in support of Birdwell's bill. But in 2011, the measure was backed by a large majority in the House and Senate and Gov. Rick Perry, a concealed handgun license holder, before dying without a final vote at the end of the session.
College administrators have generally not supported the bill in the past, saying they worry more guns will spark more campus violence and suicide. Supporters call it a critical self-defense measure and guns rights issue.
"It levels the playing field," in terms of safety, said Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. "We have to allow people the option for self-protection."
Connecticut Gun Panel Starts Work
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's panel charged with reviewing state laws and policies after the deadly Newtown school shooting was set to hear from experts who sat on similar commissions following mass shootings in Colorado and Virginia.
Malloy's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, scheduled to hold its first meeting on Thursday, also was expected to be briefed by Danbury State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III on the status of the investigation into the Dec. 14 shooting
In addition to Malloy's group, the General Assembly has formed a bipartisan task force that is examining the same issues.
A subcommittee on school safety is holding a public hearing on Friday. A hearing on gun safety is planned for Jan. 28 and another on mental health issues is expected the next day .
Members of Malloy's task force will hear Thursday from two former members of similar commissions created by governors following mass shootings.
Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver's district attorney at the time of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, will make a presentation. Also, Virginia Law Professor Richard Bonnie will discuss how his state reacted to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.
States Rethinking Mental Health Cuts
Dozens of states have slashed spending on mental health care over the last four years, driven by the recession's toll on revenue and, in some cases, a new zeal to shrink government.
But that trend may be heading for a U-turn in 2013 after last year's shooting rampages by two mentally disturbed gunmen.
The reversal is especially jarring in statehouses dominated by conservative Republicans, who aggressively cut welfare programs but now find themselves caught in a crosscurrent of pressures involving gun control, public safety and health care for millions of disadvantaged Americans.
In many states, lawmakers have begun to recognize that their cuts "may have gone too deep," said Shelley Chandler, executive director of the Iowa Alliance of Community Providers. "People start talking when there's a crisis."
About 30 states have reduced mental health spending since 2008, when revenues were in steep decline, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In a third of those states, the cuts surpassed 10 percent.
The steepest drop by percentage was in South Carolina, where spending fell by nearly 40 percent over four years - an amount that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has called "absolutely immoral."
Both Pennsylvania and Utah have put aside plans to scale back their mental health systems.
And Kansas, which cut mental health spending by 12 percent from 2008 to 2011, announced this month a new $10 million program aimed at identifying mental health dangers.
The sudden pause reflects anxiety from last year's shootings in a Colorado movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school. Although little is known about the mental health of either gunman, the attacks have shaken state legislatures that until recently didn't intend to consider more social spending. In some cases, gun-rights advocates are seeking mental health reforms as an alternative to more gun laws.
Jon Thompson, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, said many budget-cutting governors are having second thoughts, including whether to reform mental health policies "to further invest in the safety of their citizens."
In Kansas, under then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, state psychiatric hospitals began treating only the most dangerous cases. Caseloads at the Johnson County Mental Health Center near Kansas City rose from the recommended 15 per caseworker to more than 30 in 2010.
Oklahoma also cut mental health programs in 2010 and 2011. But Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, a conservative elected in the GOP landslide of 2010 on a promise to cut spending, reversed course last year after grim warnings about the effect on public safety, and after several teen suicides in Oklahoma City.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Republican, has promised to fully implement a new program under which people are required to take medication and attend therapy if a judge believes they pose a risk
Security At Calif. School Gets High-powered Rifles
Vice President Joe Biden is launching a White House campaign of road trips to promote gun control with a visit to Virginia, a state that has experienced its own school shooting tragedy yet maintains an avidly pro-gun tradition.
Biden will travel to Richmond on Friday along with other Obama administration officials and Democratic Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the White House announced Wednesday. And on Thursday, Biden will take questions on ways to reduce gun violence during a Google Hangout, an interactive video chat that will stream live on the White House website and on the Google Plus social network.
President Barack Obama said last week that he wants Congress to require background checks for all gun sales and ban both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The president conceded passage will be difficult, with support for gun ownership rights strong among lawmakers.
Biden headed the president's task force to study gun violence in the wake of last month's massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. White House aides say Obama also plans to travel to push the issue, although his destinations have not yet been announced.
Virginia lawmakers have been debating a bill to require that private sellers conduct criminal background checks on buyers at gun shows. The current law only requires dealers to conduct the checks. Some of the survivors and families of victims of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech that killed 32 have been leading the push for tighter gun control measures.
Gun shows are a frequent event around the Richmond area, and the Virginia General Assembly has been overwhelmingly supportive of gun ownership rights under both Democratic and Republican leadership.
The high-powered semiautomatic rifles recently shipped to school police in Fontana California look like they belong on a battlefield rather than in a high school, but officials here say the weapons could help stop a massacre like the one that claimed the lives of 26 students and educators in Connecticut just weeks ago.
Fontana Unified School District police purchased 14 of the Colt LE6940 rifles last fall, and they were delivered the first week of December - a week before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Over the holiday break, the district's 14 school police officers received 40 hours of training on the rifles. Officers check them out for each shift from a fireproof safe in the police force's main office.
Fontana isn't the first district to try this. Other Southern California districts also have rifle programs - some that have been in operation for several years. Fontana school police Chief Billy Green said he used money from fingerprinting fees to purchase the guns for $14,000 after identifying a "critical vulnerability" in his force's ability to protect students. The officers, who already wear sidearms, wouldn't be able to stop a shooter like the one in Connecticut, he said Wednesday.
"They're not walking around telling kids, `Hurry up and get to class' with a gun around their neck," the chief said. "Parents need to know that if there was a shooter on their child's campus that was equipped with body armor or a rifle, we would be limited in our ability to stop that threat to their children."
Some parents and students, however, reacted with alarm to the news that school resource officers were being issued the rifles during their shifts. The officers split their time between 44 schools in the district and keep the rifles in a safe at their assigned school or secured in their patrol car each day before checking the weapon back in to the school police headquarters each night.
"If the wrong person gets ahold of the gun, then we have another shooter going around with a gun. What happens then, if that situation occurs?" said James Henriquez, a 16-year-old sophomore who just enrolled at Fontana High School this week after moving from Texas.
Other students said they felt disillusioned that officials would spend money on semiautomatic rifles while the district eliminated its comprehensive guidance counseling program two years ago.
"They should get guns, but not as many and not spend so much money on them," said student Elizabeth Tovar. "They should use the money to get back our counselors because a lot of us really need them."
The district saved millions by restructuring guidance services, said Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks.
"I understand that people are looking at the layoffs, but $14,000 and $7 million is a huge disparity," she said.
The 40,000-student district came up with the school rifle program after consulting with top school safety experts and looking at what other large districts had done, said Olsen-Binks.
Santa Ana Unified School District, in nearby Orange County, has had a rifle program for about two years that operates similarly to the one Fontana has started, said police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
The Los Angeles School Police Department also deploys rifles to its officers as needed, the department said in a statement. It would not say how many rifles district police have but said the weapons are kept in the department's armory and are handed out and returned daily.
The San Bernardino City Unified School District police force purchased four Bushmaster semiautomatic rifles last July, said Linda Bardere, a district spokeswoman.
Fontana is a city of about 200,000 people southeast of Los Angeles.
"I came from a teaching background, and it's appalling to think that we'd have to have security officers - let alone armed police officers - on our campuses. But the bottom line is ... everybody has anxiety over school safety right now," Olsen-Binks said. "Our police officers said they would take a bullet for these kids and because they are willing to put their lives on the line, they need to be equipped for all scenarios."
Only sergeants are authorized to check out the rifles from the police armory, where they are kept. All officers have been trained for years to use the rifles.
The Fontana rifle purchase did not require approval from the school board but member Leticia Garcia said she believes there should have been a public discussion before they were purchased.
"We're talking about a war-zone rifle, and so are we going to militarize our public schools?" Garcia asked. "We have to provide a safe haven for people to learn ... but this, to me, seems a little bit too much."