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Gov. Cuomo proposes bill to help teachers block students’ gun access

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on May 28 at

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on May 28 at Glen Cove's Memorial Day Parade. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday proposed a “red-flag bill” that would empower teachers and other school officials to ask a judge to block access to guns by students suspected of being a danger to themselves or others.

Cuomo said the bill would be the first in the nation to provide an opportunity for a teacher to act on suspicions that students could be a danger to themselves or others. Under current law, Cuomo said a school official has no legal standing to petition a judge to remove or secure guns in the home of a student.

“The evidence suggests that, in many cases, the teacher already had suspicions about a student before an action happened,” Cuomo said. “Right now, teachers are basically powerless. . . . [The bill] gives them a vehicle to do something about it.”

Cuomo said the State Senate’s Republican majority rejected the idea during budget negotiations, from January through March. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Democratic-led Assembly have already passed a red-flag bill — limited to family members, household members, police officers and prosecutors. The bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), would prevent a school-age child from purchasing or possessing a firearm under the “extreme risk protection orders” from judges.

A spokesman for the Republican majority didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cuomo’s bill would add school officials to that group. Currently, Cuomo said a judge may remove firearms from a person in connection with a criminal or family court proceeding.

At least six states — Rhode Island, Florida, Vermont, Delaware, Maryland and Vermont — have some form of “red-flag law,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, with dozens more states considering similar proposals.

Unlike proposals in the Republican-led Congress to arm teachers trained in firearms, Cuomo’s proposal has support from a major teachers union.

“We have to make sure our schools are not fortresses,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Anyone who understands schools understands the insanity of arming teachers. It may create an illusion of safety, but in reality it will make schools more dangerous.”

Cuomo acknowledged that with just 10 scheduled days left in the legislative session, it’s unlikely his bill could pass. But he said he hopes to at least inform voters of those who oppose his measure when they go to the polls in the fall legislative elections. Cuomo also is running for re-election.

Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the University of Southern California’s school of education who has studied school shootings, said the additional route to report concerns is “probably a good thing and may save lives . . . but right now we’re kind of like, ‘Let’s figure out who the next shooter is.’

“If you want to prevent this on a mass scale, you really want to start much, much earlier in the process,” he said. He said researchers nationwide are urging politicians to “soften schools, not harden them,” by creating closer and more productive relationships with students, so that fear, anxiety and violence can be talked about.

“Students have lot of intel,” he said, noting that a California study found 20 to 30 percent of students had seen weapons on campus. “They know about the rumblings long before the earthquakes.”

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