DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad called Monday for more focus on safety measures and prevention in areas of mental health and bullying in the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting a Newtown, Conn., elementary school where 20 children and six adults were fatally shot.
The governor, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Mark Schouten, administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEMD), also called on Iowa school districts to review their safety measures and to commit to more vigilance, but the conceded efforts at the Connecticut school did not ensure that a violent incident could not take place.
“The thoughts and prayers of all Iowans are with the families and friends of the innocent victims of this senseless tragedy,” Branstad said at the start of his weekly news conference. “While it is difficult to understand such an evil act, we do know our children and grandchildren remain our most precious gifts and ensuring their safety in our communities is absolutely critical.”
Schouten noted that his agency earlier this year put in place a new school safety guide to assist schools in making plans and establishing procedures to make their facilities, students and staff safer. He said the guide covers a variety of emergencies, including how to respond to an intruder with a gun who enters their school intending to do harm, but he also hoped that parents, teachers and others would contact their local school administrators regarding the safety measures they have in place in the wake of last week’s tragedy.
He also said his department has worked closely with the Iowa Central Community College’s Homeland Security Training Center to offer active shooter classes to law enforcement and other first responders for the past three years. The training center has taught some 41,000 first responders through their active shooter and other classes over the past nine years and is currently the recipient of an HSEMD grant to continue active shooter training for smaller law enforcement agencies, he added.
The Connecticut school shooting has prompted calls for stronger gun control laws and conversely for having trained shooters on site at schools to respond to such emergencies, but Branstad urged caution among policy makers regarding any quick decisions.
“I think we have to very carefully look at all options in terms of dealing with these kinds of situations,” he said. “I know you have people with various viewpoints on the political spectrum that have different approaches – some that want to have more severe gun control, some that want to arm school teachers and administrations.”
Branstad noted that Connecticut has some of the nation’s toughest gun controls but that didn’t prevent the tragedy from happening.
“I think we need to be very careful and review all the options before we jump to a conclusion that makes the most sense,” he told reporters.
The governor noted that the state has embarked on a comprehensive revamp of the mental health service delivery system and he hopes to proposal anti-bullying measures to the 2013 legislative session that he hopes will address some of the root causes of violent behavior.
The governor also asked the media to show restraint in covering the school shooting to minimize the potential for copy-cat crimes.
Schouten said about 500 copies of the school safety planning guide have been distributed to school administrators, school nurses, emergency management coordinators, and first responders over the last few months. Electronic versions are available at the HSEMD website: www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov or can be obtained from your local emergency management coordinator, he added.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who has been named chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects his committee will solicit comments from law enforcement, education and mental health experts as it pertains to strengthening school safety measures and reducing the risks of gun violence in Iowa.
“There’s no question we’re going to be exploring responses to what happened in Newtown,” Hogg said Monday. “What we’re really interested in is finding proven strategies for reducing gun violence. I’m not interested in a big ideological debate.”
However, he did say he was interested in closing a “loophole” that allows gun sale shows at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. He also doubted the list of ideas would include authorizing schools to have trained shooters on premise to combat situations like last Friday when an armed gunman broke into the elementary school in Connecticut as some gun-rights advocated have argued.
“This idea that if we just arm everybody somehow that will end gun violence, I think that’s naïve,” Hogg said.