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Harris addresses gun laws

Democratic senator speaks during teachers roundtable in FD

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Before actually discussing teacher pay or other educational issues at a roundtable held at the Fort Dodge Middle School, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, outlined some of her gun control proposals.

If elected president and if necessary, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, said she is prepared to take executive action when it comes to gun safety laws.

“The issue of gun violence directly impacts our teachers and our children,” Harris, a Democratic candidate for president, said in a crowded band room at Fort Dodge Middle School Friday during a teachers roundtable discussion.

“Every day in America our babies, elementary, middle school, and high school students are enduring drills during which they are taught on how they must crouch in a corner or hide in a closet in the event that there is a mass shooting,” she said. ”They should be looking to the front of the classroom and opening their minds to the wonders of math, or science, or art. But in the back of their mind they have to worry about someone threatening their safety.”

Harris said she believes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, should have called the Senate back to vote on gun safety.

“When our children come home and they ask us as parents why do we have to have that drill,” Harris said. “The response is because there are supposed leaders in Washington, D.C., who have failed to have the courage to act. Supposed leaders who have failed to reject a false choice which suggests you are either in favor of the Second Amendment or you aren’t.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Jay Kahn, of Maquoketa, asks U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris a question about keeping government regulations from letting schools respond flexibly to student needs during a roundtable discussion about teacher pay at the Fort Dodge Middle School.

Harris, the first Indian-American to serve as a U.S. senator, said the federal government needs to adopt “reasonable gun safety laws,” including universal background checks and the renewal of the assault weapons ban.

“The issue is Congress has not acted,” Harris said. “If elected, I will give the United States Congress 100 days to pull their act together on this and put a bill on my desk for signature. And if they do not, I am prepared to take executive action to get background checks required, and require the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to take the licenses of gun dealers who violate the law.”

According to Harris, 90 percent of the guns associated with crime are sold by just 5 percent of dealers.

Harris said she would also use executive action to place a ban on the importation of assault weapons.

In terms of teacher pay, Harris said she wants to close the gap that exists between educators and other similarly educated professions.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, answers a question Friday during a roundtable discussion at the Fort Dodge Middle School.

She said teachers make on average 11 percent less than similarly educated professionals.

“One of my first initiatives, is to make a commitment, which will be the first time from a federal level that we will close the teacher pay gap in our states,” Harris said. “Here in Iowa the teacher pay gap is $12,200 a year. In most places, that’s a year’s worth of mortgage payments or a year’s worth of grocery bills.”

Branwyn Greathouse, a Fort Dodge Community School District educator for 22 years, said oftentimes teachers are faced with problems not relating to class subjects.

“We have students who aren’t getting fed,” she said. “The last meal they had was their meal at school the day before. What we are struggling with is the families who are struggling. That’s tough because families don’t want to admit that they need help.”

But Greathouse said she’s grateful that when families do need help, the community has resources.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Freshly retired Fort Dodge teacher Cheryl Trunnell, of Fort Dodge, takes a picture Friday afternoon while waiting for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, to show up for a round table discussion at the Fort Dodge Middle School.

“We are very blessed with a lot of the partnerships we have in this community,” she said. “So part of it is getting families to admit things to us so we can help them.”

Laurel Redmond, a first-grade teacher at Duncombe Elementary School, said oftentimes basic needs become an issue.

“It’s hard to meet educational needs if their basic needs aren’t being met,” Redmond said. “This is my 34th year. One of the changes I have really noticed is kids coming to us with basic needs not being met and that includes social and emotional needs. It’s tough with big class sizes and rigorous curriculum. It’s hard to get to that curriculum when they need help with a lot of other things, too.”

Harris acknowledged the sacrifices that teachers make and said some even work a second or third job.

“I think across the board we have failed to properly fund public education,” Harris said.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Community School District special education teacher Banwyn Greathouse, listens as U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, answers a question Friday during a roundtable discussion at the Fort Dodge Middle School.

Greathouse said teachers do a lot of work behind the scenes.

“We do all of these things because kids need it and they need us,” Greathouse said. “They are our future and we need to invest. But there are days we have to put our own family first and that’s hard.”

Jay Kahn, a longtime educator from Maquoketa, said in his experience he’s found the less government involvement in education, the better.

“The larger the district, the more paperwork and more involvement from state and federal agencies,” he said. “The smaller the district, you don’t have to mess with all that nonsense.”

He added, “It bothers me to tell you that the more government involvement in schools has made it worse. How can you as a state or federal agency get involved without screwing it up?”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Chance Main, 5, of Fort Dodge, plays his video game while wearing his “Future President” shirt Friday while waiting for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris D-California to show up at a roundtable at the Fort Dodge Middle School.

Harris said she favors more local control when it comes to education.

“That’s because I trust you,” she said. “You know your community and the challenges of your community.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, answers a question Friday during a roundtable discussion at the Fort Dodge Middle School.