(ABC7, AP) - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday that policymakers should not overreact to the Connecticut school shooting but should discuss allowing school officials to carry firearms on campus.
Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School left 26 dead, including 20 children. It has renewed the gun debate, with President Obama pledging to address gun violence in the coming weeks.
Some Democrats, like Virginia U.S. Senator Mark Warner and avid hunter and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, have said they now favor more restrictions on guns.
McDonnell, a Republican, said during his monthly radio show on WTOP on Tuesday that if school officials were trained and chose to have a weapon, they might have an opportunity to stop someone from trying to get into a school.
"I know there's been a knee-jerk reaction against that. I think there should at least be a discussion of that," McDonnell said. "If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there'd be an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the schools."
McDonnell said policy changes shouldn't occur in the immediate aftermath of an event such as the mass shooting on Friday at a Connecticut elementary school, which left 26 dead, including 20 children.
But he said it's appropriate to hold a larger discussion about related issues. The governor supported a ban on people other than law enforcement bringing firearms into schools.
But he noted the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School that reportedly ran toward the shooter to try to protect her students.
"If a person like that was armed and trained could they have stopped the carnage in the classroom? Perhaps." McDonnell said gun control isn't a comprehensive solution to violence in America.
He says access to mental health care, personal responsibility and the overall health of our culture also should be discussed. "Don't react solely when you're emotional because your policies may not be right but really get to the bottom of what works and what can actually make a difference."
Residents divided by the issue
Local residents we talked to were split on the idea.
Sharon Wyatt has a grandson the same age as many of the children who were murdered in Connecticut. She says she'd feel safer if an official at his school had a gun.
"Especially now, I think that someone should be armed at all schools," she said.
But others say arming principals or teachers could create far more trouble than it prevents if the guns fell into the wrong hands.
"It is important that we find a way to make school safer after a tragedy like that," said Alexandria resident Leeanne McLarty. "But I think that having guns in schools isn't the first solution to jump to."
Critics reject McDonnell's suggestion
Northern Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Democrat, is critical of the Republican governor's comments, calling the idea "reprehensible." He told the radio station it was an "outrageous suggestion" to put armed personnel in schools.
Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, there was "just no reason" to allow guns in schools.
"Instead of forcing our teachers to carry weapons and our children to live in fear every day, we should let them focus on teaching and learning and demand that our leaders worry about keeping dangerous weapons off the streets and out of the hands of criminals," she said.
Senate Democrats issued a statement late in the day rejecting McDonnell's idea.
"And when that fails to stop this, what's next? Arm the students? If teachers wanted to carry guns in order to do their day job, they would have become policemen," said Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Democratic Leader.