MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week's theme is Taking Chances and in just a bit we'll hear from local scientists who are taking big chances in the field of stem cell research. We'll also meet authors taking literary risks in our monthly series, Bookend. First though, we'll explore an issue lawmakers are debating hotly right now, including lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia. See, if you talk with people on either side of this debate, each one thinks the other is taking huge chances when it comes to safety. Gun control has really come to the fore over the past six months, after the deadly shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin and just last month in Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The issue of gun control has really come to the fore over the past six months, after the deadly shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin and, just last month, in Newtown, Conn., at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
MR. BOB MARSHALL
I'll bet my reaction was the same as everybody else who heard it, they thought of little kids in school that they knew and they thought, oh, my God. What would I do if that happened to them?
Republican Bob Marshall represents parts of Prince William and Loudoun counties in the Virginia House of Delegates.
How long have you been a state delegate?
Too long for my opponents.
In other words, 22 years.
1991 I was elected.
Marshall is proposing legislation that he says would prevent Virginia families from experiencing the same sorrow as Connecticut families have. It would require at least one person in every Virginia public school to be trained and certified to carry a gun.
You would be having to go through the same requirements that the Department of Criminal Justice Services establishes for a state police officer.
So you'd have to know how to store a gun.
How to safely and prudently use it.
And how to respond when police come to the scene.
Because you don't want to be out in the hall, holding a gun when the regular professional police have arrived.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, an Ohio-based gun group launched its own firearm-training program for teachers. The Buckeye Firearms Association offered 24 training slots.
And almost 1100 teachers and administrators responded.
It remains to be seen what the response to such a program would be in Virginia, but if you ask one of Bob Marshall's colleagues on the other side of the political aisle…
MR. PATRICK HOPE
I just don't think more guns are the answer.
Democratic delegate Patrick Hope represents the 47th district, including part of Arlington County.
Principals and teachers, they didn't get into this profession so that they could carry guns. They got into the profession so they could teach.
Hope says rather than arming school staffers, Virginia needs to focus on the people who purchase guns. That's why he and State Senator Adam Ebbin recently visited Chantilly, Va., and attended a gun show.
We wanted to see for ourselves just how easy it was to purchase a handgun or a weapon without any criminal background check.
In fact, he and Ebbin would explicitly tell sellers, look, okay, we want to buy a gun, but we really want to avoid a criminal background check.
And just how could we do that? And they were eager to tell us.
Did these people know who you were?
No. They did not know who I was. They probably would not have sold me the gun had they known who I was. They probably know who I am now.
That's because Hope and Ebbin are proposing to make universal background checks mandatory in Virginia. Right now, Hope says, 40 percent of gun sales in the Commonwealth are conducted without a background check.
And I have got to tell you, no responsible gun owner would be afraid of a background check.
Background checks, Hope says, help keep guns away from people who have a history of crime, and/or serious mental illness. And across the border in Maryland, Democratic State Senator Brian Frosh agrees.
MR. BRIAN FROSH
The way most guns find their way into crimes is that they're bought by a straw purchaser for somebody who's otherwise disqualified. And in states that have licensing procedures, and by that I mean just something that identifies the purchaser and makes a permanent record of that person's identity, states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts have lower rates of gun deaths than do places that are similar demographically, but don't have licensing provisions.
And Maryland, much to Frosh's dismay…
…is one of those states that doesn't.
So Frosh, who represents Montgomery County, is reintroducing a measure he proposed last year.
…that would allow state police the same authority that the ATF has in regulating gun dealers.
ATF, that's the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
You have a few bad actors that cause a lot of the problems. They sell to people who aren't properly licensed or registered. Or, they lose--and I use the word lose loosely--they lose guns that are in their inventory and many of them end up being used in crimes.
Frosh says in Maryland, the poster child of that very thing…
…was a store called Valley Guns, in Baltimore County.
And the ATF cited Valley Guns for 900 violations of federal law. Not only that, but at one point…
…they had 400 guns, which is about a quarter of their inventory, missing. They couldn't account for them. If you're a merchant and you're missing a quarter of your inventory, you're not likely to be in business very long, unless you're selling them under the counter.
The ATF eventually put Valley Guns out of business. But while Brian Frosh emphasizes that he's not trying to shut down all gun dealers or violate anyone's Second Amendment rights…
You know, we're not trying to take away anybody's guns.
…Delegate Mike McDermott, a Republican representing Worcester and Wicomico Counties on the Eastern Shore, believes that's precisely what many of his colleagues want to do.
MR. MIKE MCDERMOTT
I have a very progressive General Assembly body, occupied by a 2-to-1 majority of fairly liberal Democrats that believe that the government can control these things and somehow by exerting more control, we can stop these things from happening.
These things, meaning incidents like those in Colorado, Wisconsin and Connecticut. That's why, similar to Bob Marshall in Virginia, Mike McDermott is introducing legislation that would start up a guardian program in Maryland schools.
And they're people that are only known to the administration. They have wear-and-carry permits, so they're allowed to carry firearms and the school permits them to carry them on the school grounds.
McDermott refers to the guardian program as an Alamo type of measure.
It's basically your last line of defense that a school can offer the students and the staff.
Another option McDermott's suggesting is less lethal. In lieu of guns, select personnel would carry electronic-control devices.
What people would refer to as tasers or stun guns.
Which aren't as effective as a firearm, he says.
But they can still hit at a range of around 20 to 25 feet and they will immobilize a target if they make contact.
Much like Bob Marshall, Mike McDermott says he's promoting safety by granting people the liberty to fight firepower with firepower.
That brings to mind the quotation that you put on your website, the Benjamin Franklin quote.
Yes. That those that are willing to trade a measure of liberty for a measure of safety are deserving of neither liberty nor safety.
For the record, the full quote actually reads, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
And a lot of people still have that beating in their hearts. They understand what the principles are that govern liberty and a free people. And part of that is the ability to protect yourself and the things that you love.
And of course, if past is prologue, this debate over principles and liberty and how best to ensure our fundamental safety, is sure to be heated, in Annapolis, in Richmond and, of course, in the nation's capital, in the halls of Congress.
To read more about the legislation you just heard about, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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