Students across the country, including in Montana, plan to participate in the national school walkout organized to show support for students affected by the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died.
Congressman Greg Gianforte sat down with YPR's Jackie Yamanaka to talk about the issue of school safety.
Q: How did you hear about the Parkland, Florida shooting? Do you remember that?
Greg Gianforte: You know I had an initial indication I think on social media. Then as more facts came out I became more aware of what had transpired there. I think we all, we’re all grieving as we’ve absorbed this incredible tragedy and the failure at so many levels of the FBI and the local authorities.
We want safe schools and clearly that didn’t happen at Parkland
Q: What was your first reaction when you saw social media?
GG: Well, as a dad myself as a parent we want to know our kids are safe in schools. And what’s been troubling to me as the facts have come out, the police were at that young man’s house 39 times.
I had a meeting this week with representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and listening to what actually was said in those calls that went to the FBI there was clear evidence there that intervention should have occurred. That’s why I’m so pleased this last, just in the last week here when that situation occurred in Darby the community came together and that troubled man got locked up so he could get help. And in the process we protected a Montana community.
Q: As you know Montana students will be joining others for a walkout. I’m curious, do you have a message for them.
GG: You know I did 3 high school assemblies last week. I did one here at Billings West, I did one in Harlowton, and I did one in Great Falls. And we spent about 45 minutes visiting back and forth and school safety came up in every one of those communications, in every one of those meetings.
And my message to them was, ‘If you see something, say something.’ We have an obligation. It’s very hard. We ought to look at any kind of provisions that can make our schools safer provided it doesn’t negatively impact the Second Amendment. But rules we pass 2,000 miles away are not going to make our schools particularly safer if the community doesn’t come together and act based on what we know.
And that for me was the big failure in Parkland. They knew this young man was troubled. He had been crying out for help and he couldn’t get it. And we just need to do more and I think that’s what we saw in Ravalli County.
Q: Certainly there are students from Parkland who have said members of Congress who take money from the NRA for their campaigns, that it’s ‘blood money’ and that you really don’t understand because you haven’t been on the business end of a firearm. What would you say to those students?
GG: Well, many people are grieving right now. It wasn’t the gun that was the problem. It was this troubled individual who was crying out for help. Local authorities did not respond in the way they should of. That’s where we need to focus our energies.
Q: I understand you’ve been invited to an event here in Billings, “March for Our Lives” by some students who are putting that together. Have you thought about whether or not you’ll attend?
GG: You know I haven’t seen the invitation. But I respect the right of every American under our First Amendment to express their views and I applaud these young people for stepping up and demonstrating in favor of things they believe in. That’s the greatness of this country. We don’t all have to agree on everything. I think we all have the same goal, we want safer schools.
Q: Have you changed your position with regard to this latest school mass shooting when it comes to gun ownership, background checks, etc. etc?
GG: You know I’m open to look at things that would make our schools safer but I do believe I’m going to stand on the Second Amendment. I believe that our founding fathers believed in the right to own and bear arms.
Where I think we need to focus our energies is we have rules on the book. People that are disturbed, considered dangerous, are not supposed to own firearms, but clearly that broke down in this case, even with the police being at their house 39 times. So that’s where we need to focus our energies.
Q: What about hardening schools, almost turning them into institutions – almost like Corrections?
GG: Well I think different solutions are appropriate in different communities. I think that the solution that applies for an inner city school in Chicago is probably not the same for the west side of Billings here.
And I’d like to see more local control and I think that communities, and this is back to my point, I think communities should come together and decide what’s appropriate for their environment.
Q: So is it safe to say, Congressman that really you’re not changing your position on whether or not you accept any additional NRA money or your position on firearms?
GG: I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment. I think one of the things we have to be very clear about is all of these shootings have occurred in environments that are supposed ‘gun free school zones.’ I think that these people that are mentally deranged or bent on creating havoc and tragedy seek out these soft targets and it’s important for us to understand that that is the consequence we are dealing with.