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Stillman: Gun violence panel plans to act ‘swiftly and decisively’

In the still-somber aftermath of last month's shocking tragedy in Newtown, the legislature formed a new task force dedicated to gun violence prevention and children's safety. It will help channel the flow of ideas, suggestions and demands, as well as the groundswell of formal legislative initiatives prompted by the Dec. 14 shootings.

Leaders of both major political parties have agreed to work together and decided the group will have three separate components to focus on these aspects of the issue: gun violence prevention, a reassessment of school security, and mental health evaluations and services. I was honored when chosen to serve on the school security working group.

There is a sense of urgency as the serious work of this task force gets underway and I believe all of its members understand - as I do - that we must seize this opportunity to make meaningful changes and better protect one another from gun violence. The horror in Newtown last month brought into the spotlight the undeniable fact that 30,000 shooting deaths per year is a simply unacceptable statistic.

Doing something productive

Legislative leadership is right to assemble this task force so something positive and productive can emerge from such tragic circumstances - I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important and timely effort.

And make no mistake about it: the work of this task force will be a cooperative, collaborative process. Public hearings will be scheduled, publicized, held, and likely televised, and each member is fully accessible as always. If anyone reading this has a suggestion he or she is encouraged to contact my office by mail or email as convenient.

For my part, I'm eager to begin the discussion surrounding school security issues - I remember very well the law we passed in 2007, which by now is ripe for review. I have every confidence our working group will bring forward substantive recommendations with regard to all aspects of school security.

That law had incentives for local school districts to perform detailed security assessments, make technological and infrastructure upgrades as necessary, and train personnel on the use of new technology and equipment. Another provision encouraged collaboration with local law enforcement agencies - I expect this to be a key component of any recommendation made by our working group again this year.

The sad truth - and part of Newtown's vivid legacy - is this: today's educators must prepare for any eventuality, including deliberate acts of violence. Part of our responsibility as elected officials is to help them get prepared and stay prepared. Obviously our preference is to prevent or avoid a crisis in the first place, especially in a school setting, and that may well entail renewed standards for school facilities.

Also in terms of preparedness, I expect our working group will explore options in terms of training for school personnel so they're ready to respond appropriately in emergency situations. We already know far too well how important it is to take the right steps in the right order when each step and each moment is critically important and when lives are literally held in the balance.

The ambitious goal of this task force is to act "swiftly and decisively," as legislative leaders described it, to prepare legislation for consideration and debate by the end of February. It is likely negotiations on some of the more contentious aspects of this might be postponed until later in the session, but we must do all we can as soon as we can to try and prevent additional gun violence - particularly in our schools.



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