In stark contrast to Atlanta meeting, gun legislation off the table during school safety hearing

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Catoosa County School Superintendent Denia Reese speaks about achievements during a July 2017 meeting with the Catoosa County commission, the Ringgold city council and the Fort Oglethorpe city council.
Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Catoosa County School Superintendent Denia Reese speaks about achievements during a July 2017 meeting with the Catoosa County commission, the Ringgold city council and the Fort Oglethorpe city council.
photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd Jeff Mullis, State Senator and President and CEO of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority, speaks at the podium during an event in December 2017.

School shootings quantified

No federal government agency tracks the number of shootings in schools. But according to the Washington Post, more than 215,000 American students have been exposed to a shooting on a campus of 217 schools across the country since the Columbine High mass shooting in 1999.To determine the number of shootings, reporters at the Washington Post used news archives, databases, law enforcement reports, information from school websites and calls to schools and police departments. The newspaper reviewed over 1,000 cases but only counted those immediately before, during or just after classes.

Georgia Senate Study Committee on School Safety members

State Sen. John Albers, R-Alpharetta (chair)State Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale (vice chair)State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Sandy SpringsState Sen. Fran Millar, R-AtlantaState Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-ChickamaugaState Sen. Michael Rhett, D-MariettaState Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-WhiteState Sen. Ben Watson, R-SavannahState Sen. P.K. Martin IV, R-Lawrenceville

RINGGOLD, Ga. - During a school safety study committee hearing, advocates said Friday morning that school employees should be prepared to use a tourniquet, apply pressure to a wound and pack a wound; to provide mental health resources to students, to keep their building's main entrance secure; to run from a shooter, to hide from a shooter and, if needed, to desperately attack a shooter.

One issue not brought up? Gun laws.

Hope Mays, a member of the gun-control organization Moms Demand Action, said the group counted the number of times a speaker used the word "gun" during the meeting at Ringgold High School. She said they heard the word only three times.

"They talk about mental health, but they've been talking about it for a long time," she said. " There needs to be some legislation."

In step with the stark divisions between Atlanta and rural parts of the state, Friday's Georgia Senate School Safety Committee hearing felt different from one held June 8 in Sandy Springs, said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, a member of the committee. During that hearing, several speakers told lawmakers to pass legislation making it more difficult for minors or people with mental illness to obtain a gun.

A teacher at that forum said he and his colleagues don't have time to become trained armed guards for their students. To cheers, Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone said discussing school safety without talking about gun laws is "like talking about the Civil War and not talking about slavery."

But Ringgold is a much different area. In 2017, the Cook Political Report ranked Georgia's 14th Congressional District (which covers the northwest part of the state) the 10th most conservative district in the country. Sandy Springs is in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, which is the 165th-most conservative in the country. Mullis pointed out that visitors to Friday's meeting passed a gun trader on the way to the school.

"In rural Georgia, in rural America, we are pro-gun kind of people," he said. "We think there's another mode (for school safety)."

He added, "We're not going to go out shooting bullets, of course. But it seems like we want to have a different approach here than just take away everybody's guns."

For someone like Mays, walking into hostile territory, the only solution is to keep showing up, hoping to convert unbelievers. She said her nephew, Mark Rodriguez, died while driving home from his high school graduation ceremony in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in May 2014, when a stranger opened fire. The shooter killed a police officer later that day.

"It's unacceptable," she said after Friday's hearing.

With gun laws untouched, speakers at Friday's event brought up other ways they think Georgia's schools can be made safer. Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese said the state should allow districts to hire school resource officers, mental health professionals and social workers with Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues.

State law requires the penny tax to be used only for capital improvements, such as a new auditorium. But Reese said the money could have a bigger impact if used to pay certain employees. Through a state grant, psychologists visit five elementary schools in the district a couple days a week. Reese hopes to one day employ six psychologists for the middle and high schools.

"If I could wish for something right away," she said, "that's what I would like to see."

Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said he and other lawmakers will push for this tweak to the tax when the next legislative session begins in January. But the change requires a constitutional amendment, which means voters would have to approve it during the next general election in 2020.

Mullis is also interested in increased funding for "stop the bleed" kits. These include gloves, a tourniquet, gauze, trauma dressing, shears, trauma pads and guides in English and Spanish. With some state funding, the Georgia Trauma Commission is trying to deliver about a dozen of these kits to each school.

Mullis asked how much it would cost to put a kit in every classroom and every school bus. Dena Abston, executive director of the Georgia Trauma Commission, said kits cost around $39 each. But that price could drop if the state funded bulk buys.

After the meeting, Mullis said Abston told him the exact cost would be about $6 million.

"We need to start that process," of getting kits in each classroom. "We may not get them all, but we can get more."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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