Our Opinion: Speaker Moore steers divisive gun debate toward school safety

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With school safety measures in the spotlight, House Speaker Tim Moore says North Carolina already has the ability to place more sentinels on guard.

A 2013 state law allows retired law enforcement officers who retain their certification to be stationed at public schools in a full-time capacity or in a volunteer role. Leveraging that resource could help schools deter and prevent mass shootings without arming teachers or hiring private guards, two proposals that prove controversial.

Moore touted the measure during his remarks to North Carolina Press Association members at the newspaper trade group’s Thursday legislative breakfast in Raleigh.

The Cleveland County Republican said by and large, school districts have not leveraged the five-year-old law, but the slayings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 and the resulting public outcry may change that.

“I can tell you that in light of what’s happened, many sheriffs’ offices are redoubling their efforts,” he said.

After high-profile mass shootings, Moore noted that the public conversation “always seems to devolve into a gun debate.” The focus on gun control obscures the need for security upgrades at public schools and other sensitive facilities.

Moore favors a commonsense bipartisan approach over a shouting match.

“There are a number of things that we can do that can fix school safety,” he said. “This as important enough an issue that we don’t need a situation where the right goes to this corner, the left goes to this corner and everybody just yells at each other. We really need to try to find common ground. In North Carolina we have a history of doing that, and we need to continue to do that.”

Anything that smacks of limiting law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights is unlikely to pass muster in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Introducing gun control bills would be a fruitless exercise.

Congress may address gun laws on the federal level — President Donald Trump has expressed support for strengthening background checks and increasing the age limit for purchasing high-powered weapons like the AR-15 rifle from 18 to 21.

Moore’s focus on school safety is more pragmatic than political. A debate over gun laws would further polarize an already fractious state legislature and lead to logjam, not solutions. Instead, the speaker suggests swift action to make public schools an inhospitable place for would-be killers.

“What I’m trying to do and working to continue to do is: Let’s deal with the things where we can agree,” Moore said. “We can agree, for example, that we need to enhance the security of the schools.”

State lawmakers can also improve behavioral health care and work to keep guns away from those who are suffering from mental illness.

“I don’t know that our mental health system is broken, but it sure ain’t running right,” Moore said. “It seems like every time we try to change this or change that, we don’t get the results that we want. And it has been one of the great frustrations that we’ve had here. It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a problem when Democrats are in charge and it’s a problem when Republicans are in charge.”

The public is divided on allowing teachers to carry firearms. Opponents say it overburdens educators who already have difficult jobs and are underpaid. Some fear teachers would receive minimal training and giving them guns could make schools more dangerous. Hiring armed guards is also problematic. While some individual sentries may be highly skilled, the private security industry trails law enforcement in training, regulatory oversight, professionalism and pay.

From where we sit, securing schools with retired cops is a better option than either arming teachers or relying on security workers.

“This avoids some of the other debate,” Moore said. “These are actually sworn law enforcement officers.”

Speaker Moore is right. North Carolina is already a step ahead of other states, and lawmakers ought to continue working across the aisle to make our schools — and our children and teachers — safer.