Richardson shows lack of leadership

I find little consolation in State Rep. Dennis Richardson's conclusion and response to the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As an elected leader, he has the responsibility to be thoughtful, reflective and representative. His suggestion that the solution to such heinous crimes is to voluntarily arm school personnel does not reflect leadership and is illegal, morally bereft and impractical.

Throughout the past four decades, our country's public education system has been called ineffective. Teachers have been accused of being overpaid. Salaries and benefits have been whittled down. Curriculum has been dictated from politicians in the form of the now failed No Child Left Behind legislation.

Merit pay for teachers based on student test scores has been advanced and argued. Programs that provide counseling for troubled children have been cut in schools and in-state and county programs. Programs that enrich and expand the hearts and minds of students in art and music have been gutted.

Through all of this, a cadre of dedicated professionals have attended to our children because they know the importance of education to give each child a chance to excel, to achieve his or her full potential and become a crucial part of the democratic citizenry of this great country. They work beyond a 40-hour week and the negotiated contract. They make themselves available to students before school and after school to develop academic skills and to talk about problems in their life with peers and at home. These are underpaid, underappreciated heroes.

Now, he would ask them to volunteer to be armed guardians of these children? He would add to the hours that they spend developing the best curriculum for students, assessing each child's progress and collaborating with students and families? He would ask them to spend time in training to develop safe and secure places for their weapons at school and to be prepared to respond to an armed intruder who carries a semi-automatic weapon with a handgun?

We have the profession of law enforcement for this task. We cannot ask educators to take on this role.

The Constitution gives us the right to bear arms. However, for public safety, these rights are limited. We cannot bear arms in federal buildings. We cannot bear arms on airplanes. In most cases, we cannot bear arms in public schools. During Richardson's interviews, he mentioned and condoned the actions of teachers who told him that they have been flaunting laws to bring guns on campus illegally.

His support of this illegal behavior is not what we expect of elected officials. Practical questions about his proposal are endless. Who would pay the liability insurance, volunteer teachers or the school? Where would weapons be kept? Studies show that the presence of weapons correlates to tragic incidents both intentional and accidental.

He talked of a coded safe box while he claimed that on-site responders could react within a minute. Could they go to a box, unlock it and ready their weapon that quickly with an intruder on campus?

This is not television or a reality show. This is a tragedy that is near epidemic proportions in our country. He has been elected into a leadership role. I urge him to step back and study the issue. He should talk to educators. Talk to school counselors. Talk to school administrators. Talk to psychiatrists. Discover how other countries have responded to this issue. And ask himself why, if our children are at risk, we cannot afford to have professional police officers providing security on our campuses.

Representative Richardson should become a part of the discourse that will allow us to hope that our country, our leaders and our citizenry can solve this problem and protect our children.

Tim Brandy lives in Ashland.

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