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Debating the gun issue

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Friday Forum focuses on weapons

By Delphine Herbert
Stating that “we see the future and it is now” West Port student activists Maurice Gilbert and Afreka Ebanks are among the many Ocalans joining Parkland survivors and young people everywhere in militating for increased safety in all our public institutions through more stringent restrictions on the purchase and control of widely available weapons of war and more mental health counseling and treatment.
 Panelists before the overflow crowd at the March 9 Friday Forum came up with concrete proposals for gun controls and school safety as Beth McCall, chair of the Marion County School Board, Dr. Hal McSwain, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, and Henry DeGeneste, former Superintendent of Police for the NY/NJ Port Authority also participated in the ongoing debate predicated on individual rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment versus the State’s duty to ensure public safety.
No one disputed a responsible citizen’s right to own and bear arms for personal safety. However, Bruce Seaman, moderator, in his opening comments, pointed out that while other amendments in the Bill of Rights have been subject to change, absolutists will not accept any restraints on their perceived individual rights, choosing to find inviolable only the second portion of the Founding Fathers’ words: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
“We go with that knowledge in this discussion about guns everywhere, most particularly in the schools knowing that we have gone from Columbine to Sandy Hook and nothing changed . . . until Marjory Stoneman Douglas which has sparked a storm of controvery here in Florida and throughout the nation.”
McCall began by reviewing current safety and budgetary concerns and sharing what is being done in the schools right now . She said
the school board is working closely with the Sheriff, the Police Chief and other school officials in “shade” meetings not open to the public.
Because the school board has not made any decisions about their options, McCall said that she can’t speak as a school board member but “as a grandmother and a private citizen I can tell you I am not for arming our teachers. I By Delphine Herbert
Special to the Messenger

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Stating that “we see the future and it is now” West Port student activists Maurice Gilbert and Afreka Ebanks are among the many Ocalans joining Parkland survivors and young people everywhere in militating for increased safety in all our public institutions through more stringent restrictions on the purchase and control of widely available weapons of war and more mental health counseling and treatment.
 Panelists before the overflow crowd at the March 9 Friday Forum came up with concrete proposals for gun controls and school safety as Beth McCall, chair of the Marion County School Board, Dr. Hal McSwain, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, and Henry DeGeneste, former Superintendent of Police for the NY/NJ Port Authority also participated in the ongoing debate predicated on individual rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment versus the State’s duty to ensure public safety.
No one disputed a responsible citizen’s right to own and bear arms for personal safety. However, Bruce Seaman, moderator, in his opening comments, pointed out that while other amendments in the Bill of Rights have been subject to change, absolutists will not accept any restraints on their perceived individual rights, choosing to find inviolable only the second portion of the Founding Fathers’ words: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
“We go with that knowledge in this discussion about guns everywhere, most particularly in the schools knowing that we have gone from Columbine to Sandy Hook and nothing changed . . . until Marjory Stoneman Douglas which has sparked a storm of controvery here in Florida and throughout the nation.”
McCall began by reviewing current safety and budgetary concerns and sharing what is being done in the schools right now . She said
the school board is working closely with the Sheriff, the Police Chief and other school officials in “shade” meetings not open to the public.
Because the school board has not made any decisions about their options, McCall said that she can’t speak as a school board member but “as a grandmother and a private citizen I can tell you I am not for arming our teachers. I will never be for arming our teachers.” McCall says she gets nightmares thinking about different scenarios in which a teacher or a child might be mistaken for the shooter when split second decisions must be made.
The school board will make the final decision on how Marion County schools will be protected. However, McCall pointed out that she is only one among five. In order to voice your views about arming teachers, she asks that the public email school board members, write letters to the editor and appear at the next school board meeting which takes place at 5:30 p.m. March 27 at 512 SE 3rd St., Ocala. If you want to address the board during the 30 minute televised portion you must fill out a form in advance. Check www.marionschools.net or telephone 352/671-7703.
 McSwain, a member of the Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Board, and DeGeneste, past chair of the group, both presented two simple first steps that can easily be achieved without violating the Second Amendment. McSwain argued for limiting clip size while DeGeneste seeks to ban armor piercing rounds. McSwain also asked the audience to consider the incredible cost for liability insurance and the question of who would pay.
Holding up pictures of four fire arms. McSwain asked the audience to choose the assault rifle among them. To the uninitiated three looked like simple rifles with which to shoot squirrels or deer , with the AR-15 appearing strikingly more fearsome.. McSwain said all four use the same bullets, have the same muzzle velocity and can fire the same number of rounds.
So what is the definition of an assault rifle? He argued that “on a national or state level legislators can move very quickly to limit clip size. . .not the most important issue but a step that can easily be taken. There are limits on the type of fire arms that people can own. It is illegal to own a fully automatic weapon and yet a fully automatic weapon can look like any of these rifles right here. When you use the term assault rifle or weapon be aware that it doesn’t have to do with the style . Semi automatic weapons are just as deadly across the board no matter what shape they come in.”
McSwain and DeGeneste maintained that a simple handgun is virtually useless against weapons of war, leading police to be among the very strongest voices against assault rifles for self-protection.
All panelists are against arming teachers because even trained , full time swat teams cannot prevail against a weapon capable of firing 100 rounds a minute and penetrating armor, cars or even concrete walls
DeGeneste, repeatedly describing himself as an ex-cop for 25 years, said arming teachers is the worst thing he can think of and his daughter, a retired deputy school superintendent in Fairfax County, Virginia, has told him he would no longer be her father if he ever recommended that position. Pointing out that that most mass shootings have occurred in suburban or rural communities not in inner cities where schools have one way in and one way out, he used West Port as an example of how easily someone with an assault rifle could wreak disaster. An individual could drive up at 3 p.m. in a van with tinted windows and start shooting from 200 yards away. Someone with a Glock at the school entrance wouldn’t have a chance.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, revered by conservative Second Amendment absolutists, wrote that the Constitution allows us to take into consideration types of weapons according to deGeneste who says that no one needs a weapon of war in his home. A lifelong member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest organization of its kind in the world, the ex-cop said its recommendations included reinstatement of bans on assault weapons, internet gun and ammo sales and high capacity magazines. The group also calls for stiffer penalities for illegal gun ownership, supports in-person transactions and opposes concealed carry permits.
 Ebanks said students are scared. Focus groups are addressing their issues, using videos and meetings with administrators to form a platform on which students can voice their opinions and propose action. . Local students, members of what Gilbert calls Generation eXcellence, are motivated in part because they lost friends at Parkland, Gilbert said. He wants to get them involved in the political process because numbers count and if they are loud enough their voices will be heard. Smart politicians will listen to the 70% of the American public who want gun controls rather than to the NRA in the person of Marion Hammer, the “real governor of Florida.” Gilbert was shocked to hear Deputy Superintendent of Schools Craig Ham advocate for arming teachers on MSNBC, saying such action would only cause confusion and likely lead to the detriment of everyone..
When Seaman pointed out that amazingly Tallahassee finally sent legislation to the Governor eliminating bump stocks and raising the minimum age for gun ownership to 21, discussion turned largely to the need for mental health with Gilbert suggesting that the $67 million awarded to arm counselors, librarians and coaches might better be invested in mental health.
Quoting his wife Annette Alber who feels that violence always begins with disenfranchisement, McSwain said “our community is wounded. Our civic, moral and ethical fiber has been stretched and torn. We need to provide safety for our youth and for each other but we are all responsible for doing so whether we are in favor of fire arms or not. “ McSwain asked when the NRA is going to show concern for students not just for the “me” culture. “They need to know that they too have responsibilities as well as rights and we need to repeatedly remind them of that fact.”
An audience member opined that shooters are often bright misfits to whom nobody listened. McCall responded by citing a teacher who each Friday asked her students “who do you want to sit next to?” in order to identify those no one chose. She then placed them next to the most popular in order to teach kindness and compassion.
When asked if kids would know what to do if they saw something disturbing , Ebanks replied that there are counselors in her school but each carries about a 700 person load and they concentrate on academic problems. Moreover many kids are afraid of being made fun of so they hesitate to voice their concerns. “we must find a way to change our culture ,” Ebanks said. Gilbert concurred, adding that guidance counseling should be revamped to include mental and emotional success not just academic requirements.
DeGeneste said that although we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, we are not more mentally deranged than other people. We just have more guns. We need national laws so that people living in places like Chicago with strict gun control laws can’t simply drive a few miles out of town to buy them. We also need to stop warehousing mental patients in our prison system in order to enrich the private prisons which proliferated after mental health facilities were largely abolished in the 1980s.
When asked about promotion of values , Gilbert said that schools can only do so much and, with cyperactivity rampant, cultural changes can be addressed only when people feel open discussion is more welcome.
 In conclusion, Seaman pointed out that once again Marion County must ask voters to approve a referendum in August to fund basic services for our school system because Tallahassee is not spending as much on education as it did in 2008 Gilbert suggested that perhaps it’s because of legislators like State Rep. Elizabeth Porter who recently scoffed at Parkland’s democratic participation, saying: “The adults make the law because we have the age, we have the wisdom, and we have the experience.” To which Gilbert’s response is “We don’t have the years but we have the knowledge.”
Students are rallying at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at the Ocala downtown square to promote a new way of thinking that will guarantee the safety of our public institutions. This is not just an event. It is the beginning of a movement and everyone is welcome. Let’s all get together for the nation-wide March for Our Lives - All our lives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our officials, clergy and other leaders joined us?
For more information, contact Martin Perez at perez.martin23@outlock.com.