The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 20, 2012

Gun law changes sought: DA: Let off-duty police carry weapons at schools

JOHNSTOWN — In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Connecticut, a local prosecutor said she wants to see a change in one of Pennsylvania’s gun laws.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said current law makes it illegal for an off-duty police officer to carry a gun on school grounds.

“Even if an off-duty police officer goes to a high school football game, he would not be allowed to have a gun with him,” Callihan said. “I think it’s important to make sure we don’t have weapons on school property. However, I would like to see the exception for law enforcement expanded to include off-duty officers who routinely carry their weapons.”

The state crimes code bans firearms from school grounds but makes allowances for gun clubs, which are a “lawful supervised school activity.”

The Newtown, Conn., shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead has prompted cries from around the nation for tighter gun laws. Others want more armed police in schools

Across Pennsylvania, police officers have reported carrying weapons while working in at least 113 school districts, five vocational-technical schools and two charter schools, one alternative school and one intermediate unit, according to The Associated Press.

The New Castle Area School District has hired six part-time police who will be armed.

“In light of what happened in Connecticut, I think you’re going to see more petitions filed in the courts to arm officers in the schools,” Callihan said.

The Greater Johnstown School District has an armed city police officer each day at the middle school and high school, schools Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak said.

“We have more preventative safety and security measures in our district than anyone would expect,” he said.

Earlier this year the school district made it mandatory for visitors to produce identification, Zahorchak said.

Greater Johnstown administration is working to reduce anxiety at the school, Zahorchak said, noting that students, parents and staff are experiencing a broad range of responses to the Newtown shootings.

“All the federal and state agencies and psychology experts tell us: Get to normal as fast as you can after these things,” Zahorchak said.

“Don’t buy into the dramatizing.

“We’re trying to get back to normal.”

Meanwhile, police in Somerset Borough continue to investigate a high school student who was suspended Wednesday for allegedly making a “hit list” with 48 names.

It’s unlikely the student would have been able to carry out any threat, police Chief Randy Cox said.

“It’s one thing to express some sort of threat,” he said. “It’s a different matter to be able to carry it out.”

The high school student had no weapons or access to weapons, Cox said.

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