Delaware lawmakers call for change after Texas school shooting

By Joseph Edelen
Posted 5/27/22

DOVER — Just days removed from the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school massacre that left 21 dead, some state lawmakers are calling for immediate action to address mental health, gun control and …

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Delaware lawmakers call for change after Texas school shooting

Posted

DOVER — Just days removed from the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school massacre that left 21 dead, some state lawmakers are calling for immediate action to address mental health, gun control and school safety in the First State.

In the span of two weeks, two mass shooting events have accounted for 31 deaths. Ten days prior to the elementary school massacre, an armed shooter took the lives of 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, an attack that has since been deemed as racially motivated.

The countless number of American lives lost at the hands of mass shooters has continued to rise as lawmakers across the country have done very little to address these incidents, according to Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark. He said when he heard the news of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, he had a visceral reaction.

“I’m not surprised. I’m outraged and repulsed by even the thought of fourth graders being massacred and butchered because we as a country have a love affair with guns. We as a country have citizens who feel they’re entitled to buy a gun of any caliber and of any capacity, essentially weapons of mass destruction, because it’s their constitutional right, and I don’t agree with that at all,” Rep. Kowalko said.

Rep. Kowalko said he is repulsed by politicians’ lack of action, stating that it was time to act upon legislation in Delaware that would prevent these massacres from happening in the state. He advocated for Senate Substitution 1 to Senate Bill 3, which would require citizens to obtain a new permit before purchasing a handgun. The bill is currently assigned to the House of Representatives Appropriations committee, where it has sat for over a year. Rep. Kowalko called for a suspension of the House rules, recommending the bill be immediately placed on the House floor when the chambers reconvene.

“I would say that if you’re going to have a suspension of the rules, here’s a time to have a suspension of the rules. We always have excuses when you get late in the legislative year, like ‘something came up at the last minute.’ Well, this has already been the last minute for hundreds of children and people in this country who have been murdered,” Rep. Kowalko said.

House Appropriations committee member Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said though she isn’t the committee chair making the decision, the likely reason SS 1 for SB 3 has yet to be heard deals with funding and how the bill would affect the state’s recommended budget. She said there are many different aspects of the issue, but at its core, mental health is one of the main concerns.

“It’s the same with any reasonable, rational person. I’m totally appalled and devastated that someone would have such little regard for human life. To just seek to kill and hurt as many as they can, there obviously had to be something significantly wrong with this individual,” Rep. Briggs King said.

“We have to be very careful that we’re not mislabeling folks or mistreating people, because there’s a difference between a mental illness and an issue with mental capacity. I just think we need to be very careful and thoughtful, not rushing into anything just because everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon to try and prevent what happened in Texas from happening in Delaware.”

Rep. Briggs King, who is also a member of the Joint Finance Committee, said that during Wednesday’s JFC meeting, she asked if any additional funding would be allocated to schools to address safety issues. She said she was told that the plan was to wait and see what happened legislatively before addressing any issues for the upcoming budget.

Like Rep. Briggs King, House Minority Whip Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, said it is important that lawmakers do not make a reactionary decision on legislation despite the horrific shootings that have occurred. Rep. Dukes provided an alternative solution to this issue which he said would instill trust and a sense of protection in Delaware schools.

“If a bill would make a difference and stop any kind of mass shooting, then I think a lot of people would support them. I think our concern is that you have a knee-jerk reaction to a shooting,” Rep. Dukes said.

“Gun control is a residual thing that really takes years for it to work. Yet an armed officer in that school, where they are trusted and valued by students, is absolutely immeasurable. That’s where I think we need to focus. Not just a knee-jerk reaction to gun control, but to make sure that our children are protected.”

Rep. Dukes pointed to House Bill 388 as an example of legislation that could prevent these types of instances in schools. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Townsend, would provide funding to schools to address safety concerns. He said in light of these recent events, the top priority for lawmakers should be to make sure that children are safe and protected in their schools.

“Anytime there is a murder or tragedy when a life has been taken with no respect to human life, the fear, the pain that it leaves in the wake of death is beyond words,” Rep. Dukes said.

“We have a responsibility as legislators to make sure that in Delaware, we’re doing everything we can to protect kids to keep them safe, to make them feel safe, and to protect our places of education where some of the most vulnerable in our society are.”

Rep. Kowalko said everyone has the same reaction to mass shootings, yet nothing gets accomplished to prevent these instances from occurring, adding that he is simply tired of it. He said it is time for politicians to put their partisanship aside and focus on solving the problem.

“I’m tired of hearing politicians say, ‘Oh, well there’s a lot of pressure, it’s an election year.’ No. There should never be a moment when your conscience isn’t what dictates to you what is right or wrong. Your conscience should not decide that it will make a choice between reelection as opposed to one person losing their life,” Rep. Kowalko said.

“Everybody has an excuse as to why we’re not doing anything. But the bottom line is that we are not doing anything.”