By Blake Belden
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell is urging state legislators to approve recommendations from his School and Campus Safety Task Force that would increase sentences for illegally buying guns, require mandatory lockdown drills at schools and establish more comprehensive suicide prevention programs.
McDonnell sent the General Assembly a letter Friday outlining the panel’s initial recommendations.
“I am pleased to report that the Taskforce has provided me with a number of initial recommendations that the members believe will help make our schools and campuses safer,” McDonnell wrote. “After reviewing their initial recommendations, I agree that these will help make our schools and campuses more secure.”
The letter highlighted 10 recommendations involving public safety (including restoring funding for school resource officers); two involving education (such as funding anti-bullying training); and three involving mental health (like expanding outpatient services).
“Given the limited time left in session and considering that budget development is already well underway, I am providing you with my thoughts regarding which recommendations should be given your highest consideration and most immediate attention,” the governor said.
McDonnell established the task force in the wake of December’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children.
The task force issued its initial recommendations Thursday.
Under current law, the illegal purchase or transport of firearms is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail. The task force’s proposal would make this violation a Class 6 felony punishable by up to five years in jail.
The recommendations would also increase the punishment for “straw-man purchases” of firearms. That’s when someone legally buys a gun with the intent to sell it directly to someone who is ineligible to purchase a firearm. The law currently provides a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail for straw-man purchases.
The task force proposed increasing the punishment for all straw-man transactions and mandating a punishment of 10 years in jail for the ineligible person if the transaction involves more than one firearm.
For people who enter a school with a firearm or explosive device, the panel suggested that they be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail.
No proposals limit any current laws of legal gun ownership.
The task force also issued recommendations that require more security on the schools’ part. For instance, all schools would be required to conduct a lockdown drill within the first 20 days of the fall and spring semester.
The task force also proposed that all schools institute a more in-depth mental health program and suicide prevention activities. Another proposal suggests that teachers undergo training and certification so they can recognize and treat mental or emotional distress among students or other faculty.
The General Assembly has less than a month to turn these recommendations into law. The legislative session is scheduled to end on Feb. 23.
The task force is expected to send the governor another set of recommendations by June 30.
In his letter to the General Assembly, McDonnell said, “I am confident that by working together we will make our schools and campuses safer and improve upon the legal and budgetary framework necessary to help our first responders, education and mental health profession protect all Virginians.”
In his letter to members of the General Assembly, Gov. Bob McDonnell listed all the initial recommendations issued by the School and Campus Safety Task Force, and noted which ones he considered priorities. The letter is available at tinyurl.com/safetyproposals.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.