Shooting of Virginia teacher was preventable, and gun control isn't the answer

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

To be fair, I do have questions about how a 6-year-old gained possession of a handgun that was supposedly secured, as his family maintains. There is, however, an existing law already in place in Virginia that make it a crime for a parent or guardian to leave a firearm in a way that a minor under the age of 14 would be endangered as a result, and its possible the parents of the student will face some sort of charge once the investigation has wrapped up.

If the 6-year-old didn’t bring a gun to school, it stands to reason that Abigail Zwerner wouldn’t have been shot by the student in her first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. But as we’re learning, school administrators had apparently been informed that the student had brought a gun with him to school, and just an hour before the shooting took place Zwerner sent a text message to her boyfriend telling them that officials were aware the student had a firearm but weren’t doing anything about it.

The text “showed her frustration,” said the source, who only disclosed details of the single text message to NBC News and not the messages that came before or after it. “She was frustrated because she was trying to get help with this child, for this child, and then when she needed help, no one was coming.

When asked about Zwerner’s text message and previous safety concerns from teachers and staff, Newport News Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Price said, “Anything that has been reported to our school leadership team in regards to concerns at Richneck from teachers and staff members is part of the investigation. It’s being thoroughly investigated.”

On Wednesday morning, Zwerner’s attorney Diane Toscano held a news conference and said three teachers went to the school administration about the boy’s behavior on Jan. 6 and that he was believed to have had a gun on campus.

Zwerner first went to a school administrator between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and said the student threatened to beat up a classmate, Toscano said. A second teacher went to a school administrator at 12:30 p.m. and told the administrator the teacher took it upon herself to search the 6-year-old boy’s backpack.

“The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun,” Toscano said.

A third teacher told an administrator shortly before 1 p.m., the boy showed a student the gun at recess and “threatened to shoot him if he told anybody,” Toscano said.

A fourth employee asked an administrator for permission to search the boy and was denied, Toscano said.

The administrator told the employee, to “wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.

Toscano said the “administration could not be bothered” and the tragedy was “entirely preventable” if the administration “had taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger. But instead, they failed to act and Abby was shot.”

Toscano said she plans to bring forth a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf.

If those allegations are true then the school district absolutely bears some culpability in the shooting in my opinion. Four different employees spoke to school administrators about the possibility that the student had brought a gun with him, at least one of his fellow classmates apparently reported the gun to a teacher, and yet the school administration didn’t search the student even after that report had been relayed?

Newport News school superintendent George Parker III told parents at a virtual meeting after the shooting that the student’s backpack was examined when he showed up late for school that morning, but apparently didn’t discuss why the school didn’t do any followups after the initial reporting of a firearm. Newport News police say that they weren’t informed of the possibility that the student was armed either… at least not until after Zwerner had been shot.

Virginia papers have been full of op-eds and columns demanding more gun control laws in response to Zwerner’s shooting, but there’s been little discussion about the school’s alleged failure to identify the potential threat and intervene. I’m not downplaying the responsibility that the 6-year-old’s parents had to ensure their kid wasn’t able to get ahold of the gun and take it to class with him, but that doesn’t absolve the school district of taking reasonable steps to ensure the safety of students either; particularly when there’s been an articulable threat and multiple employees have identified who, exactly, posed a danger to everyone else in that elementary school.

I fail to see where another gun control law would have prevented this shooting, but if Toscano’s side of the story is close to the truth then there were multiple opportunities to disarm the 6-year-old in question before he pulled the trigger and shot Zwerner in her classroom. The incompetence or inattention of school administrators is no reason to infringe on the rights of millions of Virginia gun owners, and while thankfully we have a Republican-controlled House of Delegates and a GOP governor to serve as a bulwark against the anti-gun machinations of the Democrat-controlled state Senate, anti-gun lawmakers in Richmond have made it clear that they view all gun owners and the Second Amendment itself as the biggest threats to public safety.