As the United States mourns the victims of its latest mass shooting – 19 elementary school students and two teachers gunned down in Texas – Democratic governors are amplifying their calls for greater gun restrictions.
Many Republican governors are emphasizing a different solution: safer schools.
The rift between the country’s governors reflects a partisan split that has hampered action in Congress and in many state capitals on how best to respond to a record number of gun-related deaths in the United States. Political differences dig deep into the country’s roots, underscoring the tensions between life, liberty and constitutional rights spelled out in the nation’s founding documents.
Following Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, The Associated Press asked US governors if they believe their states have an obligation to reduce mass shootings and violence with firearms and, if so, how to do it.
About half of the governor’s offices responded to the AP. There was agreement that they had a responsibility to try to do something. Both Democrats and Republicans have mentioned the need to invest in mental health services and training to try to help those potentially prone to a violent outburst.
But the community generally ended after that.
Should people under the age of 21 be prohibited from buying semi-automatic weapons? Should ammo magazines be limited to no more than 10 rounds?
Many Democratic governors have said “yes.”
“If you’re not serious about guns, you’re not serious about crime prevention. I think that is more true today than ever before,” said Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, where 20 students and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School a decade ago.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said he supports limits on both bullet capacities and the purchase of semi-automatic weapons. He rallied on Friday with gun control advocates in Philadelphia while denouncing his state’s Republican-led legislature for failing to pass his gun proposals.
“They would rather give in cowardly to the gun manufacturers lobby than pass common-sense legislation that would prevent children from dying,” said Wolf.
Of the Republican governors who responded to the AP, only Vermont Governor Phil Scott expressed support for such gun control efforts. Scott signed a law in 2018 limiting the capacity of gun shops and raising the general age to buy guns to 21, with exceptions for 18-20 year olds taking a gun safety course .
Other Republican governors have either avoided questions from the AP about specific gun control measures or said they oppose them. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy was a business “Nope” about setting ball limits or age restrictions that could violate constitutional rights.
“Stricter gun laws are not a solution to this problem – we need to focus our attention on the state of mental health in our communities,” Dunleavy’s office said in an email.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would not endorse such gun control proposals because he believes they have no chance of being passed by the government-led legislature. State GOP. DeWine, a Republican, instead offered to spend “a large sum” on efforts to ensure that schools are protected from potential attacks. He did not specify exactly what that security would entail.
Republican governors were more likely to support efforts to make schools safer. The AP asked about proposals to arm teachers and staff with guns, add security guards or secure schools with metal detectors and fences.
During a speech Friday at the National Rifle Association convention in Houston, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota denounced calls for gun control as “garbage” and adopted greater school security measures
“Why do we protect our banks, our stores and our celebrities with armed guards but not our children? Aren’t they really our greatest treasure? says Noem.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa also outlined a variety of potential school safety measures when speaking with reporters on Friday.
“He’s looking at ways to toughen up schools, he’s talking about having conversations about state resource officers,” she said, later adding: “Perhaps a single entry into the school system and making sure the educators are trained.”
While rejecting proposals to restrict gun ownership, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said the solution was to “focus on individual problems” and continue to provide grants to schools to improve safety.
“You could call it toughening them up when the kids are in their classroom,” said Holcomb, a Republican.
Some Democrats also support funding specially trained police officers, called school resource officers, or improving building security. But none of the Democratic governors who responded to AP questions supported arming teachers or staff to deter or stop the attacks.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers – a Democrat who is a former teacher, school superintendent and state education chief – said he fears arming teachers will make schools more dangerous. Placing extra security guards or police in every school building could be both impractical and counterproductive, he said.
“There are not enough people to do it” Evers said, “and I’m not sure we want to turn our educational institutions into armed camps.”
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Tom Davies in Indianapolis; Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut; David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; and AP reporters from across the United States contributed to this report.
Corrects South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s comment to remove reference to her office not responding to inquiry.
Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting