Panelists discuss gun control, school safety with Hickman students, community

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | 10:41 p.m. CST; updated 8:49 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 13, 2013

COLUMBIA — Five panelists and about 100 students, parents and community members discussed violence in schools and gun control at Speak Your Mind, a forum Tuesday evening at Hickman High School.

Zooey Brewer and several other students at Hickman invited an intellectually diverse group of panelists to discuss the forum's topic, a timely one because of the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Members of the panel included:

  • S. David Mitchell, MU law professor
  • Wayne Brekhus, MU sociology professor
  • Chris Belcher, Columbia Public Schools superintendent
  • Gary Nolan, talk radio host and libertarian
  • Sgt. Joe Bernhard, Columbia Police Department

Hickman junior Bohannon Davidson asked about the value of police officers in a world where some schools allow teachers to carry concealed weapons.

Nolan responded by quoting a saying in the gun community: “A gun is easier to carry around than a police officer.”

He said he supports the idea of teachers carrying concealed weapons in classrooms, saying that an armed teacher is the only way to protect students in case of a school shooting.

Belcher disagreed. He said there are safety issues to consider, but he supported armed police officers protecting schools because they're highly trained.

Bernhard said it's impractical for police officers to protect all schools. In Columbia, he said, there are only eight to 20 police officers on patrol during the day. Although Hickman, like the other three Columbia high schools, has a resource officer, Bernhard was pessimistic about a police officer's chances of preventing a school shooting.

“When seconds matter, the police are minutes away,” he said.

Bernhard also said he believes school safety is a mental health issue. He said more than 10 percent of the calls the Columbia Police Department receive are related to mental health.

Five other students asked questions, which ranged in topic from the Second Amendment to school lock-down drills.

George Frissell, an English teacher at Hickman, sponsors Speak Your Mind and was pleased with Tuesday’s forum because of the wide-ranging opinions the panelists offered.

“We’re not looking for a consensus,” Frissell said. “We’re looking for a variety of perspectives for the students to consider.”

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