Bob McDonnell safety task force recommends tougher penalties for gun violations

Politics,Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Bob McDonnell,Firearms

A task force assembled by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to tackle school safety in the wake of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school put out a laundry list of recommendations Thursday, none of which restrict legal gun ownership.

The group did suggest, however, increasing penalties for illegal gun purchases, including a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence for ineligible gun owners who buy multiple weapons from a legal buyer on the black market, known as straw purchases. Under one proposal, anyone caught bringing a gun or explosive onto school grounds was punishable by five to 20 years in jail.

It held off action, though, on lengthening jail time for someone caught with a gun who wasn't allowed to own one.

Other suggestions ranged from providing more training for school officials and police to deal with a crisis, such as defusing a dangerous situation involving a mentally or emotionally disturbed person. The task force, made up of lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries, local officials and law enforcement representatives, shied away from recommending cops in every school but said that option should be studied by their next meeting on June 30.

A proposal to provide additional training for school resource officers was rejected.

The task force also proposed providing localities grants and loans to upgrade older facilities to improve security. Most of the suggestions indicated there would be a cost, but nothing was specified.

A spokesman for McDonnell said the governor will now review the recommendations as the task force continues to work on further suggestions. McDonnell had no comment at this time.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 27 dead, McDonnell has cautioned against stricter gun control. He instead has worked toward tighter security at schools and improved mental health care and reporting. He also warmed to allowing teachers to be armed, but the task force did not suggest it.

On Thursday, Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, introduced a bill that would allow for voluntary background checks at gun shows. But other bills to curb gun ownership have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

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