NOONAN: Gun violence in schools mixes up education politics, unions and the 2nd amendment

Author: Paula Noonan - February 26, 2018 - Updated: February 26, 2018

Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

My family has lived in the Columbine High School neighborhood since 1983.  Like House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, everyone in my family, my next door neighbors, and my block felt the horror of so much tragedy and heartbreak so close to home.

In that bloody 1999 year, over 20 murders occurred within a one mile radius of Columbine, including the unsolved death of a young child found in a trash bin and the unsolved murders of two teenagers slaughtered at a local Subway.  A neighbor’s teenage son killed his stepfather with a gun and committed suicide with the same weapon.

Since then, the heartbreak hasn’t stopped for even a small pause.  Over four presidencies, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump, as everyone knows, the ongoing slog of trying to accomplish some progress on violence from firearms slogs on.

The hearing on HB18-1037, the concealed firearms on school grounds bill, showed the harsh political lines that crush any resolution around gun violence.  Minority Leader Neville was polite and gracious to everyone who testified on the bill, for and against.  But the whole display looks like kabuki theater, as legislators have already formed their positions and nothing anyone says is going to change anything.

After the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, Democrats ran and passed three bills on gun restrictions, signed by the Governor in March 2013, almost exactly five years ago.

That summer of 2013, two recalls of Democratic leaders of the gun restriction bills resulted in a lost Senate seat and a lost House seat.  Another Democratic Senate legislator resigned at the end of 2013 in the face of a threatened recall.  Appointed replacement Senate Democrat Rachel Zenzinger from Arvada faced off against pro-gun activist Laura Woods in 2014, and lost, and the state Senate tilted then to the Republicans.

Woods and Zenzinger tangled again in 2016 and Zenzinger re-took the seat. The state Senate remains Republican by one vote.  The results of the recalls stamped out any Democratic appetite for more gun restrictions but has motivated Republican efforts to expand gun rights.

The stand-off between the Democratic House and Republican Senate leads to this annual dance, with Republicans sponsoring pro-gun legislation and Democrats voting bills down in the aptly named “kill” committee, House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs.

To add to the stalemate, since so much of the gun violence occurs in schools, education issues get tangled in the mess.  Minority Leader Neville’s bill would allow concealed carry of handguns on school grounds. School employees with concealed handgun permits could have their weapons at schools but so could anyone else with a concealed weapon permit.  The Colorado Education Association testified against the bill.

Two Republican anti-union bills, one sponsored by two legislators who represent the Columbine area, Sen. Tim Neville and Rep. Justin Everett, go after unions, especially the Colorado Education Association as one of the strongest unions in the state.  The first, HB18-1030,  postponed indefinitely by the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee (see a pattern?), would prevent employers from collecting union dues out of paychecks.

The second bill, HB18-175, sponsored by two Colorado Springs Republicans, Rep. Paul Lundeen, a former state Board of Education chair, and Sen. Robert Gardner, prohibits public employers from paying public employee union members compensation for union activities.  Many school districts cover the salary of local education union presidents.  This compensation would be disallowed.

It’s highly likely that if a concealed handgun bill were to pass the legislature, that statute would come up for discussion in teacher union contracts. At the very instance when Republican-sponsored legislation on handguns asks teachers to perform dangerous protection tasks well outside norms of teaching, they move against the bargaining units that would negotiate those tasks. These are some of the so-called adult issues that stymie resolution to gun violence in schools.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.

One comment

  • Adam

    February 26, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Unfortunate, but not surprising, to see the GOP force teachers to become certain targets in school shootings while at the same time dismantling their organized ability to oppose.

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