TWIN FALLS — President Donald Trump wants to arm teachers. The governor of Florida wants to raise the age limit for purchasing firearms. The survivors of last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School want assault weapons banned.
Nearly everyone admits school shootings have become so frequent that something finally has to be done to stop them. But what?
We asked Magic Valley politicians, police, doctors, teachers, students and gun experts: How do we prevent another mass shooting?
Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury
"The horrific incident in Florida unfortunately is the most recent mass murder to rock our nation. The conversation regarding the safety of our children must never stop. The Twin Falls Police Department has a long history of driving this conversation in our community. We will continue to work with all of our community partners in an effort to keep Twin Falls as safe as possible.
"There isn’t a one thing that we can do. There’s many things that need to be done. That’s why we need to continue the conversation. That’s why we need to have people that are brave enough to talk about these difficult topics and not get drawn into politicizing events such as this."
Conrad Robbins, 17
A high school junior at Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls, Conrad Robbins grew up around guns and is an avid hunter. He has been a member of Xavier’s Trap and Skeet Club since sixth-grade.
“For me, the guns is not the biggest problem,” Conrad said, adding there weren’t mass shootings when his father was in school.
The issue, he said, is “parents aren’t taking the initiative to train their kids” and teach them right from wrong.
He said his parents raised him where if he did something he wasn’t supposed to, he got punished for it. But some of his friends weren’t raised that way. It’s not wrong, Conrad said, “but I think that is one main thing where a lot of this is coming from.”
It’s a learning gap, he said, adding the thing that’s missing is not respecting the lives of others.
In his classes at Xavier, the topic of gun violence and school safety comes up once in a while and “we try to have a conversation” and come up with solutions, Conrad said. But for every solution someone brings up, “there’s a new problem that arises with it.”
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls
"I think it's a societal problem. We never used to have this problem because families were strong, and we had smaller communities, and we knew each other. If one person was off-balance a little bit, either people helped him, or at least they didn't go to the extremes they are now. I don't know if you want to moderate Facebook and all, but we need some people that can see these threats to talk to authorities, see if we can get them some help. Because a lot of times it's just a mental issue, and a little help might go a long way.
"I think education of the community to help look after one another would be a big help. Because we can change gun laws, we can do a lot of things that wouldn't be very effective. In Switzerland, every house has a gun in it, and every household head is trained for the military ... and they hardly ever have a shooting. So it's not necessarily the guns, it's the people.
"We've got to protect our schools, though. However we do it, we’ve got to be proactive. And I think it's our job in the state to help guide that. How we go, I'm not sure. Some have talked about armed security in the schools, which I think could have a big effect. But obviously it didn't in the last one because he didn't try to intervene. So we need trained armed security, in that case. In the Capitol here we have some security, but everything's open. Maybe someday we'll regret it, but it’s still the way we want to be. And I think our schools, we want to be open and free. "Our society in general ... needs to be more aware and more proactive trying to get help to people who need it. I think if we have to put in more mental hospitals or counseling services, that could help." Twin Falls County Commissioner Jack Johnson
Twin Falls County Commissioner Jack Johnson wrote Wednesday on his personal Facebook page he has long advocated for local school boards to allow school employees who are willing “to be armed as an immediate first line of defense for our students.”
He wrote he’s more than willing to help facilitate the process for any interested local school districts.
The impetus behind his remarks: To get a discussion going and try to find proactive solutions, Johnson told the
Times-News, whether that’s arming teachers, having guards at school doors, metal detectors, or bringing in retired law enforcement and military personnel to help out in schools.
But gun violence, he said, is a complex and sensitive issue that may never be solved in our lifetimes.
Knowing teachers are armed could be a deterrent for someone who wants to come into a school and inflict harm, said Johnson, former chief deputy for the Jerome County Sherriff’s Office.
“There’s a capability available to use to provide a front-line defense,” he said. “I think we should look at all options to provide that kind of environment for our kids and schools.”
Rural schools often don’t have a school resource officer and for those that do, “that doesn’t mean they’re in every school for every minute of the day,” Johnson said.
It also takes longer for law enforcement to respond to rural areas. And in just 60 seconds, “somebody with very limited knowledge of any kind of gun can injure or kill a lot of people," he said.
For educators who want to take on the responsibility of having a gun at school, “they would need to undergo some training as far as decision making and handgun skills and understand the law for when deadly force can be utilized,” Johnson said.
But he said he’s not necessarily in favor of open carry in schools. “I don’t know that our children need to see people packing. I think it should probably be some kind of concealed situation.”
The logistics — such as whether a teacher would concealed carry or use a gun safe in their classroom — would be up to local school boards. Johnson said from his law enforcement experience, though, a gun “doesn’t do any good if it’s not on you when you need it.”
Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter
"I think the first thing that I would certainly go along with is better background checks. I’m not necessarily averse to closing gun show loops. Mental health and background (checks) are the two biggies, as far as I’m concerned.
"And I don’t necessarily disagree with putting guns in schools. I don’t know if that's the answer or not. But I do know if there was one person, maybe one teacher in Florida that had a gun on his ankle, it might have saved some lives. What I don’t think is going to make a difference is all this talk about AR-15s and assault rifles and all that. Because I don’t think a person does that because they have access to any particular gun.
"If you have had mental health issues in the past, it should preclude you from getting a weapon until you can prove to somebody that you’re no longer having problems. I think that background (checks) is where I would start and probably guns in the schools is where I would end. "I just don’t think there is any simple answer to gun violence. As far as what I do and my job, I will support this community and do whatever I can do, whatever they ask me to do, to help with that problem. If they determine that a teacher ... wanted to conceal a gun on his person and the school board is alright with it, the only thing I would ask is that he would go through proper training. I would certainly volunteer that ability. But I don’t think there’s a magic bullet."
Burley City Councilman Casey Andersen
"I think we have to strengthen the family. There has to be some societal changes regarding violence on television, movies and in video games. It’s gotten to be where we glorify violence in videos and games and now kids grow up with it. It would have to be a generational thing because we would have to get beyond those people who have been totally immersed in the violence.
"I don’t think restricting the Second Amendment will change things that much. There are hundreds of millions of guns out there and it would just drive them underground. Those who commit crimes don’t care about following the rules."
Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding
"Idaho has pretty good gun laws and regulations right now. My concern is the automatic weapons and the bump stocks. If you want to use those kind of weapons, that's what we have the military for. Anything military-grade, join the military. Everyday U.S. citizens like you and I, what do we need an automatic rifle for? There's just no reason ... to have accessibility to it. I'm really concerned about that piece of it.
"You know, we all hunt and fish and we have gun safety, we have hunter safety. We do pretty good. I'm just really concerned about getting your hands on these high-powered rifles and whatnot. We've created an allure for them, and we need to stop that. Because they don't belong in everyday people's hands.
"It has to be more difficult, at this point, to get them. The high, hollow-point bullets and things like that, we just don't need them. Those aren't used for hunting."
Jason Ostrowski, dean
More than a year ago, Jason Ostrowski, dean of students at the College of Southern Idaho, created a CARE team. It meets weekly — but acts immediately if there’s a critical situation — and offers an avenue for people to report things they’re concerned about.
There’s an online form on CSI’s website where anyone — including students, college employees, family members and community members — can make a report, either using their name or anonymously. When they submit a form, four to five people on the CARE team receive an email.
Concerns could include a faculty member who’s worried about a student who has missed a lot of classes, a student exhibiting unusual behavior or who may be the victim of abuse, or a homeless student who’s living out of a car.
The CARE team evaluates each report and comes up with a response plan. “It’s almost like an early alert system before things reach the level of crisis,” Ostrowski said.
He preaches the mantra “just report,” he said. “Let us filter through the information and see if it’s credible.”
A piece of information may not seem like a big deal, but CARE team members may have more knowledge about the individual or situation. It may not be an isolated incident and could rise to the level of a crisis, Ostrowski said.
Something else new on campus: CSI is doing interviews seeking to hire a third full-time mental health counselor. Officials expect the position will be filled in about a month.
Having another counselor will allow for more proactive educational programming for students and employees, Ostrowski said, in additional to individual and group counseling sessions.
Steve Gobel, recreational shooter
Hunter and gun owner Steve Gobel of Twin Falls advocates for better gun safety education.
"Better education is the only tool that verifies that a person understands the handling of a firearm," Gobel said Thursday. And that education should start early.
"Right now you don't need training or a hunting license to buy a gun," Gobel said. "A driver's license is all you need."
There's a reason that everyone who enters a branch of the service is trained to handle a firearm, he said.
"If you respect the firearm, there is a good chance you might respect other things too."
Gobel doesn't hunt much any more — mostly because he can't get around like he used to, he said. And, his dog, Buddy, is gun shy. He's more apt to be found fishing these days. But he still enjoys shooting for recreation and has a concealed weapon permit.
But as a gun owner, he says background checks and age restrictions should apply only to the purchase of AR-15 style rifles. To own an AR-15, one needs military training or a special class, and should be at least 21 years old, he said.
Hunting rifles and handguns for personal protection should be allowed without restriction, Gobel said. Fathers should be able to pass a rifle down to their sons.
Dr. Cathy Canty
A medical doctor at Family Health Services, Cathy Canty believes research could help lead to a solution for reducing gun violence in the U.S.
“I would really like to see more research from a scientific point of view,” she said. “It feels like everyone has strong opinions about the causes behind this, and I hope we could find some data there.”
The American Academy of Family Physicians carries a similar viewpoint, she said. The medical field has generally focused on public safety with regards to keeping guns out of the reach of children.
Ryan Horsley, gun dealer
Changes need to be made to the background check system, says Ryan Horsley, general manager of Red's Trading Post, a gun shop in Twin Falls. Presently, only gun dealers with a federal firearms license can ask the FBI to run background checks.
"It sounds like a great thing to say, 'Run background checks on everyone,'" Horsley said. "But the federal government does not allow private individuals who are selling a firearm the ability to conduct background checks on potential buyers."
He recommends local law enforcement agencies handle the background checks, funded by a minimal — perhaps $10 — fee from the potential buyer of any firearm.
"At the same time, the agencies could run the firearm through the National Crime Information Center to ensure the firearms were not stolen," he said. In addition, the potential buyer should show proof of firearm safety training.
"We have gotten out of the education aspect of firearms and it has become a free-for-all," Horsley said. "So people are learning via video games and on the Internet."
But he doubts any changes to gun laws will stop the violence.
If someone wants to slaughter a bunch of people, changing the gun laws won't stop them, he said.
"Like the 1994 assault weapons ban, these changes won't deter crime or prevent anything, but will only make people feel good. They will find a firearm, steal a firearm, make a bomb or burn down a building."
Councilman Jim Munn looks over the gallery in his final moments as a city council member Monday evening, Jan. 4, 2016, in Twin Falls.
Jim Munn, public safety director
When Jim Munn took over security at the College of Southern Idaho nearly two years ago, he discovered the college needed training on how faculty members and staff should respond in an active-shooter scenario. Munn collaborated with Twin Falls police to develop presentations.
Every year, employees at CSI’s main Twin Falls campus and off-campus centers hear a presentation. There’s also a 20-minute video faculty members can watch by logging into a secure page on CSI’s website about how to respond during an active shooter situation.
New employees receive a 40-minute lesson about campus safety, including active shooter response. And parents and students hear a presentation during an orientation — before classes even begin.
The college follows the “run, hide, fight” mantra, Munn said.
Other safety measures in place on campus include classroom doors that lock with a flip lever that doesn’t require a key, an emergency guideline manual, text message alerts, emergency messages in a banner on CSI’s newly-redesigned website and on electronic reader boards, and a close, collaborative relationship with Twin Falls police.
Minidoka County School District Superintendent Ken Cox
"What I would do to reduce gun violence at schools would be to work with law enforcement to recruit retired law enforcement officers to spend time at the schools. That way when an incident similar to what happened here this past week occurs there would be an extended staff available to help monitor the schools. Another resource might be to recruit retired veterans or security guards to volunteer their time. It would deter gun violence because they would have to get past these people.
"Guns are also too easy for people to get. It’s a casual thing. But, Second Amendment rights also have to be considered."