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Massie wants to eliminate gun-free school zones

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State, local educators disagree with bill he filed on first day

By Todd Martin

Newly elected U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie’s opening bill since taking the District 4 seat – to repeal the prohibition on guns on school campuses – has gained some attention but not necessarily support from the leaders of the institutions his bill purports to support.

When the U.S. House and Senate convened last week to begin the 2013 session, a flurry of bills were filed in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and President Barack Obama’s mandate for tougher gun control restrictions.

Massie, a Republican from Lewis County who as of his swearing in now serves Shelby County, filed one of the bills on Friday to repeal the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act, which was passed in 1995 and then amended in 1996 after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. The act states that it is “unlawful for any individual to knowingly possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.”

And according to Massie, that is exactly the problem.

“Gun free school zones are ineffective. They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments,” Massie said in a release announcing the bill. “Gun-free zones prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves and create vulnerable populations that are targeted by criminals.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and the Kentucky School Boards Association have both stated that they do not favor guns being allowed on campuses.

And although he said he had not yet read Massie’s legislation or seen his statements, James Neihof, superintendent of Shelby County Public Schools, said he doesn’t see more guns on campus as the answer.

“With regard to additional guns in school, I haven’t read or heard anything that makes me believe that additional guns in school would help,” he said. “At this point, I would not be in favor of more guns in schools.”

The original bill was introduced in 2007 by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), but that bill never made it out of a House committee and had no co-sponsors.

This is the first bill filed by Massie, who won the seat after Geoff Davis stepped down in 2012. Shelby County became part of District 4 in the reapportionment following the 2010 census.

Massie, who describes himself as a “decades-long concealed-carry permit holder and Class III firearms collector” on his campaign’s Web site, said he doesn’t want the federal government solving the problem.

“A bigger federal government can’t solve this problem,” he said. “Weapons bans and gun free zones are unconstitutional. They do not and cannot prevent criminals or the mentally ill from committing acts of violence. But they often prevent victims of such violence from protecting themselves.”

Different courses

Neihof has expressed the sentiment coming from many educators that it is time to be proactive.

In Mason County, the Sheriff’s Office has assigned all fulltime deputies to spend four hours each week at local public and private schools across the county, and Neihof said a similar move is under way here.

“Both our sheriff and [Shelbyville] chief of police have said something similar,” he said. “They are adding random but routine stops at all our schools, and that’s something we’re very appreciative of. I think this is a very positive step for the safety of all our students.”

Neihof also noted that officers from both Shelbyville Police and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office would be participating in lockdown drills, something that has not happened in the past.

Neihof said the district and individual school’s administration have also continued to look at the district’s safety measures, noting that the issue has been a topic on meeting with school and district personnel this week.

“One thing I have asked all the administration to do is be wearing that school safety hat each time they visit schools,” he said. “We just all need to continue to have a heightened sense of awareness.”

Other bills

Along with Massie’s bill, several other bills have been introduced in House, even as Vice President Joe Biden heads up a special task forced that has been charged with making recommendations on how to deal with gun violence.

The bills focus mostly on the registration and licensing of handguns and semiautomatic weapons. However, one bill cosponsored by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (R-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) would ban high-capacity ammunition clips.

Another group of lawmakers also has started a congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, headed by Rep. Mick Thompson (D-Calif.).

Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), vice chair of the task force, was shot five times in the 1978 assassination of Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.).