Candidates share school safety goals, not tactics


Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Candidates running in N.C. House District 23 agree students should be protected from school shootings, but they disagree on how best to accomplish that goal.

With no opponent in the May primary, incumbent N.C. Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, will face Republican challenger Claiborne Holtzman in November’s general election. After recent redistricting, N.C. House 23 is made up of all of Edgecombe and Martin counties.

The recent Florida school shooting has refocused national attention on gun safety, particularly within schools. Willingham said he’s against arming teachers while Holtzman said he would support legislation allowing some teachers to carry concealed firearms on campus.

“If the teacher themselves were comfortable with concealed carry first and then met the following stipulations of a strict criminal back ground check, mental health profiles, character references as well as no physical impairments that would require certain medications that would carry side effects of altering one’s mental output such as anti-depressants or any other drug that could do the same, then I would support that legislation,” Holtzman said. “It is a shame that we as a country have come to this point where we have to make a decision to place armed officials in our schools to protect our children.”

Willingham said some common-sense measures could prevent shootings and should be pursued: Universal background checks for all gun purchases; restoring cuts to funding for school counselors and school nurses; and investing in the state’s mental health treatment efforts.

“We did not become the most violent country in the world overnight,” Willingham said. “There is not one law or program that will fix the problem. Instead, it will take a lot of different solutions at all levels of government to make our communities safer. There are a lot of things we can do in North Carolina. We will put forward good ideas on gun safety in the next legislative session. It is way past time to do the right thing.”

Holtzman said new school policies need to be enacted that carry a greater penalty for disruptive behavior and bullying and allow teachers the ability to teach uninterrupted the students who truly want to learn instead of having to deal with unwanted behaviors from children who do not want to learn.

“Secondly, I believe that we need to allow prayer back in school for those that wish to pray without enduring criticism,” Holtzman said. “Thirdly, I believe that if we once again have order and a no-nonsense policy in reference to behaviors, we could cut down on the potential for this type of action.”

Willingham said a bill that passed the House last year would move the state in the wrong direction.

HB 746 passed the House despite every Democrat and eight Republicans voting against it and total opposition from law enforcement and gun safety groups.

The legislation would eliminate the requirement to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon in many circumstances; allow 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds to carry concealed weapons; and weaken current restrictions against guns on school property.

The N.C. Senate hasn’t acted on the bill, and Willingham said he hopes it doesn’t.

“As we have been hearing in the news, President Trump and some Republicans are fixated on arming teachers and bringing more guns into schools, which is a bad idea,” Willingham said.

Willingham said instead, lawmakers should pass some of the ideas Democrats tried to include as amendments of HB 746 last year: Regulate large-capacity magazines that are frequently used in mass shootings; promote safe storage of firearms to reduce accidents involving kids; and extend the prohibition on firearm possession to more types of criminal convictions.

Editor’s note: This is the last of three reports looking at where local N.C. House candidates stand on guns and schools.