The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 21, 2012

Walz ‘deeply disappointed’ by NRA stand


Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota congressman who gets high marks from the National Rifle Association said he was dismayed with the gun lobby’s proposal Friday to station armed police officers in every school across America, saying it would turn schools into armed camps.

Rep. Tim Walz, a former teacher and National Guard veteran, considers himself a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and gets straight A’s from the NRA for his support on gun-rights issues. But the Democrat from Mankato said he has been rethinking his opposition to a ban on assault-style weapons and believes the country needs an open discussion about gun violence.

He told reporters during a conference call he was “deeply disappointed” by NRA chief lobbyist Wayne LaPierre’s comments at a Washington news conference about last week’s shooting rampage that killed 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school.

“I reject his pessimistic world view,” said Walz, who taught geography and coached football at Mankato West High School before he was elected to Congress. “I refuse to believe that our schools have to become armed encampments where our children don’t feel safe.”

The NRA plan also drew flak from other Minnesota Democrats and leaders of the state’s main teachers’ union, Education Minnesota.

“No legal organization in America is more responsible than the NRA for lobbying to ensure the proliferation of killer guns while denying law enforcement tools to stop killers,” Rep. Betty McCollum, whose district includes St. Paul, said in a statement. “Wayne LaPierre’s call for guards and guns in every school building and playground is madness and a perverse vision for life in America.”

Among Minnesota Republicans, Rep. Michele Bachman declined an interview. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The dean of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, Rep. Collin Peterson, who like Walz is an NRA-endorsed rural Democrat, was traveling and not immediately available, his spokeswoman said.

Walz noted that LaPierre took no questions at his news conference, calling it “a very odd way to start a national conversation.”

Math teacher Julie Blaha said it seems like the NRA is coming up with ideas without speaking first with school administrators, teachers and people who specialize in school security — the people who would be among the most affected by the NRA’s proposal.

Blaha, president of Education Minnesota’s local affiliate for the state’s largest school district —  Anoka-Hennepin, in suburban Minneapolis — said the NRA should spend some time in schools before suggesting how to fix them.

“Their focus is on security and threats. Our focus is on building good relationships. Making sure that our students have the support and resources that they need,” she said.

Blaha pointed out that there are more than 2,500 schools in Minnesota, so putting an armed police officer at each one would be prohibitively expensive.

“I do understand reactions like this to violence,” she said. “It’s tempting to grab a quick fix to feel safe again. It really is.

“But if we want to make a long-term preventative impact, let’s look at adding a counselor, a school psychologist or a social worker to every school. Let’s increase the number of community therapists available to our kids,” she added. “Adding more mental health professionals to our schools will not only help us in these one in a million situations, but help us in the 999,000 others too.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also criticized the NRA’s plan. The Democrat said the debate needs to include a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, a better background check system, tougher penalties for illegal gun trafficking and outlawing “cop-killer” bullets.

“None of these solutions were offered by the NRA today, which means they’ve proven they have no interest in being part of this conversation that stops crimes like this from happening again,” Coleman said in a statement.

Blaha was encouraged about one thing from the NRA’s proposal: “I’m glad they didn’t say anything about arming teachers,” she said.