BERLIN — With the Maryland General Assembly set to convene next week, the debate over stronger gun laws and school safety will likely dominate, and the lower shore’s representative in the House could be in the center of the action.
In an opinion piece printed last week, Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), who represents all of Worcester County and much of Wicomico, promised to introduce a variety of bills aimed at improving school safety when the session commences next week. Among the pieces of legislation is an authorization for Maryland school districts to implement a “guardian” program; an authorization for school districts to issue less lethal Taser-style weapons to certain school staffers; and an authorization for those who possess conceal-carry permits along with active or retired law enforcement officers who are certified to possess firearms to carry a concealed weapon on the campus of a public school.
McDermott’s proposed initiatives stop short of placing armed guards at the entrances to public schools, a knee-jerk reaction advocated by many. Instead, his proposed legislation is aimed at beefing up security at public schools and addressing perhaps the larger issue of mental illness and access to weapons.
“In order to solve the problem, let’s begin by confessing that we cannot stop it from happening again,” he said. “We cannot fix all of the sick, broken people determined to do others and themselves harm. We cannot take away all of the guns. We cannot afford cops at every entrance to every school.”
Instead, McDermott is pushing for Maryland to follow the lead of other school districts across the nation with aggressive school safety policies already in practice.
“We can, however, harden the target and limit our vulnerabilities if we become aggressive in our response to potential threats,” he said. “There are school districts in our country which have adopted a proactive approach to security threats.”
While advocating for increased safety initiatives in schools, for example, McDermott, a career law enforcement officer, did not suggest stronger gun laws.
“On the books, we have thousands of gun laws obeyed by our good citizens while ignored by criminals,” he said. “Most of our mass shootings have been perpetrated by those suffering from mental illness who were not armed with assault rifles. The massacre at Virginia Tech involved a handgun and resulted in significantly more victims.”
McDermott outlined some of the security initiatives already in use in some school districts across the country. For example, in some school districts there are certain staffers known only to the administration carrying concealed firearms in the schools. The trained individuals are called “guardians” and represent a vigilant line of defense.
“They are equipped and ready to stand in the gap,” said McDermott. “Like sky marshals, school guardians remain behind the scenes unknown to all, but prepared nonetheless.”
McDermott is also advocating policies to equip certain school staffers with less lethal technology such as Tasers. While their effective range is limited, they could provide a line of defense for those who currently have nothing at their disposal, he said. McDermott said equipping certain school staffers with Tasers would require minimum expense and training.
“How I wish one or more of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary had been a guardian or equipped with a Taser,” he said. “How differently might the outcome have been?”
McDermott suggested taking a closer look at how society views mental health issues and options. He suggested those deemed to be a threat to themselves and others can, and in some cases should, have some of their liberties suspended.
“We closed the doors on institutions during the 1980s only to provide no alternatives,” he said. “The results surround us and it is politically incorrect to even discuss the issues. If we feel your conduct or actions place our society at an undue risk, your liberty should be in jeopardy. We recognize this when it comes to passenger aircraft, and it is time we recognized it outside of the airports.”
McDermott further suggested there is some culpability for the media in fueling tragedies such as the school shootings in Connecticut.
“The media must police itself or be subjected to fines for sensationalizing instead of simply reporting these types of tragedy,” he said. “Most of these murdering crazies seek celebrity status even in death and the electronic media is generally only glad to oblige. Why do we understand this when it comes to streakers at a televised event, yet fail to grasp it in these situations? There is a balance missing that the media desperately needs to find or we can find it for them.”
McDermott is advocating for finding an elusive balance between safety and liberty and cited a quote by Benjamin Franklin to illustrate the point.
“It was Benjamin Franklin who proclaimed, ‘those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,’” he said. “Let us be a people who truly understand how to provide safety while maintaining liberty.”