MADISON — The tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 has sparked a discussion — led largely by teens — about guns in schools.
It is a topic that 14-year-old Delaney Hawkins said she is passionate about, particularly regarding universal background checks and keeping guns out of schools. It’s a passion that put her in close proximity to a gun when she was not expecting it.
“I want to be able to feel safe in my school,” Delaney said. “To me, that (safety) would be compromised by adding more guns to the equation.”
When Delaney had Tuesday off from school at Central High School in Paddock Lake, her mom, Lori Hawkins, jokingly suggested they go to Madison to talk to legislators about gun legislation. Delaney was all for it.
“I’m speaking out for it because if I’m not going to, then I don’t know who else will — if they even will,” Delaney said. “I want to feel safe in my school and not worry about if my teacher has a gun and if they’re going to protect me with it.”
They planned on seeing state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who represents them. Lori said she called the Monday before and his staff said he had a busy day and might not be available.
Nonetheless, the pair left their home in Bristol at 6:30 a.m. to meet friends in Madison and to see if they could run into Wanggaard in the hallways of the Capitol building.
Meeting with Wanggaard
“We didn’t go in there thinking we would get an agreement, but we did go in there because my daughter is concerned and he’s her state senator and I’m his constituent,” Lori said. “I’m his voting constituent and I wanted him to know how I felt. I feel that if more people did that, then lawmakers would listen to us.”
After seeing him in the hallway, Lori and Delaney were able to meet briefly with Wanggaard.
“They didn’t tell me what they wanted to talk to me about or anything like that, but I invited them into the office so I could chat with them for a minute,” Wanggaard said. “They came in and said it was about school safety, so I said ‘sure.’”
According to Wanggaard, Lori did most of the talking.
“It was the mother’s agenda to deal with universal background checks and no guns anywhere etcetera, etcetera,” Wanggaard said. “I carry a firearm almost every day — I have since 1973.”
Wanggaard spent 30 years with the Racine Police Department and has a concealed carry permit.
Although Wanggaard did not know they would be stopping into his office to talk about gun legislation, he was prepared to talk about the subject.
“I explained to the mother that I think it’s important that we have security at every school,” Wanggaard said. “We actually do a pretty fair job here in Wisconsin. Most of our schools have some sort of building security.”
Prepared to act if necessary
With years of experience on the streets and as an off-duty police officer in the Racine Unified School District, Wanggaard said he is prepared if the worst were to happen.
“I would be the type of person of person that you would want on the inside of an active shooter situation,” Wanggaard said. “Because of my training and experience, I could potentially stop the threat. I would like to see more schools utilize off-duty law enforcement or retired law enforcement to be in a school system.”
But Wanggaard said that “in it of itself is not going to stop the problem.”
“This is about attitude and identifying some of the mental health issues that we have by getting mental health professionals in the schools,” Wanggaard said. “I do not agree with universal background (checks), I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer to this situation … (but) we don’t want to see anybody in a position where they’re in a possession of a firearm when they shouldn’t be.”
Wanggaard said it’s difficult balance safety without infringing on the Second Amendment.
“We can’t legislate common sense, that’s the difficulty,” Wanggaard said. “The anti-gunners, this thing that’s just — take guns away from everybody — I can tell you right now, that will not happen.”
Despite not coming to any agreement on the subject, Delaney said she plans on continuing to speak out on subjects that matter to her.
“The more we talk, the more people are going to listen,” Delaney said. “It’s becoming more common for young people to find their voices … this actually helped me find my voice.”