High School Football

Flags at half-staff after elementary school shooting; Manchin supports ‘common sense’ reforms

Gov. Jim Justice ordered flags at half-staff following America’s latest mass shooting, and national debate swirled over what to do.

Nineteen elementary school students and two teachers were killed Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas, when an 18-year-old gunman opened fire in a classroom.

The accused killer, who also died, is believed to have barricaded himself inside a classroom and exchanged gunfire with officers as they entered the school.

The tragedy has come just a little more than week following the fatal shootings of 10 people at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store. The gunman there, an 18-year-old who was apprehended, was wearing body armor and fatally shot an armed store security guard who attempted to confront him.

Joe Biden

President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Tuesday evening.

“I had hoped when I became president I would not have to do this — again,” said Biden, who was vice president when the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary took place. “Another massacre. Uvalde, Texas. An elementary school. Beautiful, innocent second, third and fourth graders. And how many scores of little children who witnessed what happened — see their friends die, as if they’re in a battlefield, for God’s sake. They’ll live with it the rest of their lives.”

Biden pleaded for the societal will to curb mass shootings.

“As a nation, we have to ask, when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Biden said. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sponsored a bill along with Republican Senator Pat Toomey following Sandy Hook that would have instituted criminal and mental background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows and online. That bill was halted by the Senate’s filibuster rules.

The proposal has remained part of the conversation surrounding guns, particularly in recent weeks. Manchin has said he would continue to support it, but that he would not favor eliminating the filibuster to assure its passage.

Manchin told reporters at the U.S. Capitol that possible legislation to be considered could include background checks, red flag laws and identifying cases of mental illness.

“Something has to be done. I’m the first to say that. We have to reach across the bench. We can’t politicize it. It has to be done in such a practical way. We have Democrats and Republicans who have different ideas and good legislation.

“I’ve been working on Manchin-Toomey for many, many years, but there’s other senators too on the Republican side that we can all incorporate into one good, holistic piece of legislation.”

Manchin pushed back against eliminating filibuster requirements to pass gun legislation. He suggested some policies to deal with gun violence should be able to get up to 70 votes.

“Everyone wants to go, ‘Filibuster, filibuster, filibuster, get rid of that.’ That’s the easy way out. The bottom line is, if this doesn’t move you, nothing will. You say, well if it fixes it — what makes you think they won’t reverse it immediately if they don’t like what we do?” Manchin told Capitol Hill reporters.

Belinda Biafore

West Virginia’s Democratic Party put out a statement decrying another instance of gun violence, also making reference to the May 15 mass shooting at a church in Laguna Woods, Calif.

“During the past 10 days, we have grieved with the families of Buffalo and Laguna Woods as they have laid their murdered loved ones to rest,” stated Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore.

“Today, our grief is for 18 precious little children just starting their lives and their two dedicated teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It is inconceivable that we as a nation will allow this to continue. We agree with President Biden; it is time to turn this pain into action. We call on the entire West Virginia congressional delegation to take action to stop this violence.”

Mark Brennan

Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, issued a public statement that more must be done than offering prayers and support. “We must encourage concrete action in the hopes that never again are school children the target of these heinous acts of violence,” Brennan stated.

“It is obvious that mental health issues, unchecked anger, and rage are part of the problem and can lead to people committing unspeakable acts of evil and violence, and we must address those issues, but it is equally apparent that those perpetrating these evil atrocities are able to do so because they wield powerful weapons that are able to kill and maim dozens of people in just seconds.”

Society must do more, Brennan said, to limit the availability of those types of weapons, “especially to those whose sole purpose is to use such weapons to commit atrocities against our brothers and sisters.”

Officials in Texas said the shooter bought two rifles on his 18th birthday a few days ago and posted pictures of them online. His Instagram account was deleted after he was killed. He attended the high school in Uvalde, which is about 90 minutes from San Antonio, and quit his job at a Wendy’s a month ago. Police say he also shot his grandmother before the massacre. She was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition.

Law enforcement officials have been involved in discussions about gun violence. Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer described a rise in school shootings over the last three decades. “There’s ways that we can maybe not prevent it, but help reduce it — and we need to look at those ways and practice those ways and try to come up with new ones,” he said.

But Bohrer questioned whether more restrictive gun laws would be effective. “It’s not gun laws. People who want to kill or have a motivation to kill, they’re going to find a way. Gun laws have never been the answer and never will be the answer,” he said on “Panhandle Live” on WEPM Radio.

Bohrer advocated for West Virginia to establish better policies to allow for those who might endanger others to be taken to treatment. And he cited a need for more mental health facilities close to the Eastern Panhandle.

“Our mental health system has not gotten any better; in fact, it’s gotten worse,” he said. “We need to be able to identify dangerous individuals, and we need to be able to take them out of society, so they can’t cause these issues.”

Reporter Marsha Kavalek contributed to this story.

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