LINCOLN — Mark Christensen, a state senator who tried and failed two years ago to pass legislation to arm Nebraska teachers with concealed handguns says he's 99 percent sure he won't introduce a similar proposal in the upcoming session.
While that concept generated controversy in 2011, Friday's suggestion by the National Rifle Association to place armed security officers in every school seemed somewhat less divisive among those in Nebraska exploring ways to curb gun violence in schools.
“Having an armed person at the school properly trained, that's something we could take a look at,” Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha said Friday. “I would certainly be less resistant to that than arming teachers.”
Ashford is chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, which would consider any gun-related proposal introduced after the session begins Jan. 9 at the State Capitol in Lincoln.
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said he still has the draft of a bill allowing teachers and administrators with state permits to carry concealed weapons in schools. But he intends to leave it on the shelf, saying only an outpouring of support for the concept could make him reconsider.
“People haven't woken up,” he said. “Until we have a bunch of people killed in a school in the state of Nebraska, people aren't going to change.”
The National Rifle Association called for the government to provide armed security officers in every school in response to the Dec. 14 mass shooting that killed 20 students and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
Although the Connecticut shooting has put the security issue on the national stage, Omaha is familiar with such debates after the Jan. 5, 2011, shooting at Millard South High School. Vice Principal Vicki Kaspar was killed and Principal Curtis Case wounded by a 17-year-old student with a handgun, who then fled the school and took his own life.
Under current Nebraska law, only on-duty police officers assigned to a school can carry a gun. Otherwise, schools are to be gun-free.
Gun-free is how they should stay, said Nancy Fulton, president of the Nebraska State Education Association. The association, which represents the state's teachers, opposes the idea of putting guns in the hands — or hidden holsters — of teachers, principals and school staff members.
The association supports policy efforts that increase access to mental health services, a focus on bullying prevention and a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. But, in general, members also support the presence of police in schools, Fulton said.
“That would be preferable to having principals or teachers with weapons,” she said.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed dismissed the NRA's idea.
“Any matter that would affect all of the nation's school buildings — and in Nebraska, I think we have about 1,200 school buildings — requires a whole lot more thoughtful discussion and consideration than the single statement of a special interest group.”
Schools, he said, have limited resources. “I don't see anybody stepping forward with funding” to address security issues.
“There's a reason we have schools as welcoming, inviting, engaging, active, buoyant places,” Breed said. “Anything that diminishes that is counterproductive to the education mission that we call upon our schools to primarily do.”
The country doesn't have enough active-duty police officers to put an officer in every school, Omaha Police Sgt. John Wells said. Wells, who serves as president of the Omaha Police Officers Association, said retired police officers and retired military would need to be used.
“Somebody well-trained and armed is clearly a deterrent,” Wells said.
“But I don't know if it's feasible to do that,” he said, noting funding limitations.
The debate over guns, he said, doesn't address the main problem.
“The real issue is the lack of access to mental health treatment and the lack of people to be able to identify that.”
Wells also said there seems to be a correlation between first-person-shooter video games and the mass shootings that have occurred over the last several years. That must be addressed, he said.
“As a country,” Wells said, “we've got to take a long, hard look at ourselves.”
Messages left Friday afternoon seeking Gov. Dave Heineman's reactions to the NRA proposal were not returned.
When asked about the Connecticut killings earlier in the week, Heineman said more facts about the incident needed to be gathered before he weighs in on questions of gun control.
As for potential gun-related proposals in the upcoming session, several Nebraska lawmakers said they had heard of nothing along the lines of bans on kinds of guns or ammunition clips.
But Ashford said he does plan to introduce a bill holding gun owners civilly responsible if a mentally ill person or child in their household gets hold of a gun and uses it in a crime.
Ashford said he has discussed the concept with a gun retailer and gun-rights advocate, who both said they would support it. “It doesn't get the guns off the street, but what it does is get at personal responsibility,” he said.
Ashford also expects the Judiciary Committee to address changes in the juvenile justice system with the goal of providing more mental health treatment to young offenders.
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