State Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) is not only Deputy Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, but she is also chairwoman of Homeland Security and State Preparedness.
She told The Jewish Link that immediately prior to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School February 14 fatal shooting of 17 students and teachers she had been more focused on cybersecurity, but the attack changed things.
“I feel like this is going to take precedence,” she said. “We have to look at school security as a whole in our state. No matter if it is a public or a private school, every school needs to be safe.”
Huttle holds a meeting every other week with 12 high school students who are part of the assemblywoman’s Young Women’s Leadership Program from around her district.
After the Florida shootings, she asked the students for their thoughts.
“They were all engaged in the discussion,” she said. The result is that Huttle is taking the group and others by bus to Washington, D.C., as part of the national “March for Our Lives” rally on March 24. Huttle participated in the Women’s March on Washington in January of last year, and feels that the positive feelings she experienced will be repeated for her young women’s group. There’s something to be said for camaraderie,” she said. “They understand what’s going on in Washington is to find a way to ban these assault rifles. We need to put common sense gun laws back on the books.”
She said that the state needs to look at the physical security of its schools and it needs to prioritize funding for school resource officers.
“We can do better,” she said. “Why would anyone want to buy an assault weapon with bump stocks and 300-bullet magazines? It’s ludicrous to me.”
“An assault weapon has one reason and that is to kill. A car is for transportation and to drive. There is no argument: a gun is used to kill.”
Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-37) told The Jewish Link that he agreed with his district colleague. “The shootings in Florida makes it important to have a nationwide policy in place that addresses gun ownership here in New Jersey,” Johnson said. “The weapon used in Florida, the AR-15, has one purpose. It’s a military purpose to kill people on the battlefield. There is no reason a 19-year-old, or anyone else for that matter, should have a need to purchase this weapon.”
Johnson said that background checks such as mental health records and criminal checks are important, but the bottom line, he added, is that automatic weapons should not be allowed to be sold. The idea of training and arming teachers, he said, was unacceptable. “President Trump will say anything. He’s not credible when it comes to having a serious gun policy strategy. In Florida, trained professionals wouldn’t go into that school, and the president wants to train teachers?
“And you would think this country would learn a lesson, but we haven’t, and young people are dying in nightclubs and schools,” added Johnson. “The Congress isn’t doing anything, and, most importantly, neither is this president.”
The assemblyman added that he has no problem with a person owning what he called a reasonable weapon for hunting or collecting. “But there is a process we have to go through. If you pass background checks and other parts of the application you can have a handgun. New Jersey is one of the strictest gun states in the country. We are very strict when it comes to allowing people to purchase handguns, but we still see them on our streets and it’s usually because they are purchased in other states like Pennsylvania or Virginia and brought into New Jersey.”
The state has actually partnered with a coalition of states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York in forming “States for Gun Safety.” The collaboration, according to Huttle, is a show of how states want to work together in the sharing of illegal gun information and best gun-safety measures.
“As a father, I believe that we must find a solution to keep our children safe in their schools,” wrote Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5) in an email to The Jewish Link. “As Americans, if we put our minds to it, I’m confident that we can solve this problem. But we can’t retreat to our corners or we will be right back here again next year. We need to move forward, together, Democrats and Republicans, and get behind common solutions.”
At a recent town hall meeting in Ramsey, the congressman noted the concerns of the state’s parents on the issue of school safety for their children.
“What I heard loud and clear today is that Jersey parents, like me, are worried about the safety of their children when they go to school,” he said at the town hall meeting. “Our parents shouldn’t have to pray that their kids will make it through the day alive. Congress must confront this crisis.”
Or, as Assemblywoman Huttle said, “This recent shooting in Florida might pass, but for the parents and the kids, their grief will never go away. We need to help them in any way we can.”
By Phil Jacobs