Quinn calls for school violence drills, assault weapon ban

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn in his State of the State address called for Illinois schools to have at least one safety drill every year to help prepare students for a school shooting.

The idea was one of several firearm-related ideas the Democrat pitched as he gears up for a possibly tough battle with lawmakers over guns.

“We cannot wait for another tragedy to happen before we take action,” Quinn told lawmakers.

Some schools already have shooting drills, but Quinn's plan would mandate them.

Last week, a drill at Cary-Grove High School included shots fired from starter pistols to simulate a real shooting. The district said the drill went smoothly, but that element drew some criticism from parents and suburban law makers.

“I thought it was unnecessary,” state Rep. Dave McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, said about the use of starter pistols to simulate gunfire.

Quinn's plan doesn't appear to mandate gunfire or actors. It does require law enforcement to be on hand in order to help students with the drill.

The governor met last month with school and law enforcement officials to talk about school safety in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings late last year. He said the idea came at least partly from that meeting.

Schools already must have several drills a year including evacuations, bus drills and severe weather preparations.

John Heiderscheidt, a school safety coordinator in Elgin Area School District U-46 said his schools have been practicing shooter drills, which they call lockdown drills, for years and officials are not in favor of doing live scenarios with students present.

“Putting armed men to pretend they're shooters in schools can really put people in a trauma state,” Heiderscheidt said.

Quinn also used the speech to call for a ban on military-style assault weapons.

“There is no place in our state for military-style assault weapons designed for rapid fire at human targets at close range,” Quinn said.

That drew praise from state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and one of the suburbs' top voices on gun control.

“I think it's very important that Gov. Quinn continues to show leadership on this issue,” Kotowski said.

But at a time when gun issues are especially divisive, Republicans showed Wednesday that they wouldn't likely go along with Quinn's plans.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he didn't think the drills Quinn proposed mandating would be any different from what schools in the state have already been doing for years.

“Quinn used inflammatory rhetoric targeted at his re-election,” Murphy said. “He wants to inflame people's passions and take advantage of the Connecticut situation. It is unseemly.”

The governor had to give a bit on guns, though. The state faces a federal-court decision that says lawmakers have six months to allow Illinoisans to carry concealed firearms.

Quinn outlined some restrictions he wanted to see if an state appeal of the court decision is lost.

“Guns don't belong in our schools, shopping malls or sports stadiums,” Quinn said.

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