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State senator says Newtown shootings show it's time for action against gun tragedies

7:50 AM, Dec 18, 2012   |    comments
Sealey Elementary in Tallahassee offers support to Newtown, Connecticut.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A state senator says he believes the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut will become a turning point in American history when our country finally took action against the growing pattern of gun tragedies.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, is a former school superintendent who calls it a sad day in America to see 20 children and six adults killed in a senseless act that has become all too familiar. Montford says this time he thinks Americans will not just let the tragedy go into history without new action.

"This incident clearly says that we need to put all politics aside and let's address what's best for America. To lose children like this is unacceptable. It's a tragedy. It's an America tragedy and nothing less than a full scale investigation and a nationwide discussion on the issue has to take place.

Sen. Montford believes state and national leaders over the past 30 years have neglected the mental health issue and now, too many people are not getting the care they need.

Montford also says it's time for an important discussion on gun control even though the issue is so politically volatile.

"I consider this to be a tipping point. It's a call to action. It's a call to action for all of America regardless of your political views, regardless of your positions on mental health issues or gun control. It's a call to action and we have to step up and do it."

The Newtown tragedy is prompting schools across the country to re-evaluate their security, as well as take steps to offer emotional support to students.

In Tallahassee, the superintendent of schools is directing all administrators on his leadership team to visit every elementary school this week and he wants them on school grounds at the start of each day.

Superintendent Jackie Pons says counselors are ready to talk with students in case they feel anxious or emotional. He says teachers are watching out for any students who look overwhelmed and those children will be referred to counselors.

Pons says Tallahassee schools regularly conduct safety drills and they have extensive security measures, but so did Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.

"When you have a national tragedy like this, I think it will cause all school systems throughout the nation to evaluate their plans and to try to make improvements in order to make sure that we keep safety as our number one priority. We're all going to look at all the good things that we do, but we've also got to be willing to evaluate any type of improvements that we can make because this is completely out of the norm of what we've seen and we have to be ready to deal with it in order to keep our children safe."

Leon County schools conduct at least one safety drill a month, including a so-called "blackout drill" where classes stop whatever they're doing and students move away from doors and windows while teachers lock the doors.

Pons says he's working to make sure students know their schools have a lot of security measures in place.

"We want to make sure that they feel that their school is safe and that we do everything to maintain a safe environment and that's what we're going to do."

Meanwhile, the flags over the state Capitol remained at half-staff Monday in honor of the Newtown victims.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered the flags of the United States and Florida to be flown at half-staff on state property until sunset Tuesday. President Obama issued the same directive for federal facilities.

In his speech from Newtown Sunday night, the president told residents of the community they were not alone and he promised to use his power to try to prevent more tragedies like this.

First Coast News

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