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Gun show organizers denounce 'all criminal use of firearms' in wake of threats at Mason City High School

MASON CITY | Phillip Sanchez is concerned about school safety, especially given a recent school shooting in Florida — along with the fact he's seen flyers around town promoting an upcoming local gun show.

That gun, hosted by the River City Rifle and Pistol Club, will be at the North Iowa Events Center this weekend.

Sanchez, a city council candidate for Mason City's Fourth Ward last fall, detailed some of his concerns about that and gun violence to the Mason City School Board on Feb. 19.

His comments ranged from questioning why businesses were promoting the River City Rifle and Pistol Club's gun show this weekend, to asking how Mason City schools can better equip themselves in the event of an active shooter.

He told the Globe Gazette this week the school district probably needs more than one school resource officer in order to keep its students safe. 

"Gun violence is ubiquitous throughout the United States, and I want to take measures that are helpful in keeping our children safe," Sanchez said.

In response to Sanchez's concerns about its upcoming gun show, the River City Rifle and Pistol Club issued a statement detailing its commitment to the community and how it educates the public on safe firearm use.

"The River City Rifle & Pistol Club denounces all criminal use of firearms and joins in mourning for the loss of life at the hands of murderers," the statement read. "The River City Rifle & Pistol Club has been a part of our community since 1968. We have always been and will continue to be good corporate citizens and a responsible member of the community."

The statement comes in wake of Mason City High School dealing with two recent safety threats. 

Last weekend, police reported a student threatened Friday to bring a weapon and use it against students and staff. That student has been referred to juvenile court. 

Then, in an unrelated incident, police said a threat was made toward a school pep rally on Monday. Police later released a Instagram post that referenced a shooting and warned: "Don't go to the school assembly."

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Dave Versteeg, Mason City's incoming superintendent, speaks to the Globe Gazette's editorial board in May 2017 in Mason City. 

Mason City Superintendent Dave Versteeg told the Globe Gazette this week that the Mason City Police Department fully funds one school resource officer at its schools. He added further conversations need to occur to decide if additional resource officers can be funded by police, the school district or both bodies.

Versteeg said those costs would have to come from the district's general fund, which mainly pays teacher salaries. He added safety is always at the "top of the list" in term's of the district's priorities.

Those issues can range from transportation problems, all the way to possible school violence, Versteeg said.

At the school board's last meeting, Sanchez argued arming teachers was a "knee-jerk reaction," and that trained professionals should be tasked with protecting students.

Arian Schuessler / ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

Dan Potkonak of the Iowa Firearms Coalition talks about issues the group has been lobbying for in the Legislature during a March 2015 gun show in Mason City.

Dan Potkonak, however, thinks teachers may be able to react more quickly than resource officers.

Potkonak, a member of the Iowa Firearms Coalition since its inception in 2010, argued police departments across the state are understaffed, likely limiting how many resource officers they can deploy to schools.

An Iowa Falls resident, Potkonak has attended dozens of guns shows over the years, including those hosted by the River City Rifle and Pistol Club. As long as teachers are trained to shoot a firearm, they should be allowed to protect their students, Potkonak said.

"Your teacher is gonna be your first line of defense," Potkonak said. "Cops may be minutes away when seconds count."

Versteeg, however, stated not all teachers may be ready to take on that additional responsibility.

"At this day and age in 2018, I don’t know if a teacher got into education, thinking they would have to deal with these types of things," he said. "I would agree with that, that’s not what they’re here to do ... I’m not saying some of them aren’t prepared to do it, but I don’t think a lot of them thought they were getting into this to do that."

In public spat, Trump taunts Sessions; AG doesn't keep quiet

WASHINGTON — Harshly criticized yet again by his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday abandoned his usual stony silence and pushed back against President Donald Trump for saying Sessions' response to Republican complaints about the FBI was "disgraceful."

Sessions gave no suggestion he would step down in light of the charge made on Twitter and insisted he would "continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor."

Trump's latest tirade stems from a comment Sessions made Tuesday, when he suggested the Justice Department's inspector general will evaluate whether prosecutors and FBI agents wrongly obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of a onetime Trump campaign associate. Sessions had asked the watchdog office to review the complaints in response to pressure from congressional Republicans, who, like Trump, have fumed about what they believe to be bias within the FBI.

Trump tweeted: "Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!"

Sessions answered hours later, saying his department had taken the appropriate step and "will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution."

It was hardly the first time the president has aired his gripes against Sessions over the Russia probe. The former Alabama senator, an early supporter of Trump's candidacy, has endured a year's worth of Trump's wrath in order to hold onto the job he had long desired. But even for Trump, who once called the attorney general "beleaguered," Wednesday's volley elevated the rhetoric to a new level.

The exchange comes at a time of heightened tension between the Justice Department and the White House, which is mired in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice. Trump has long viewed Sessions' decision to step aside from that investigation as leading to Mueller's appointment.

Sessions has become a Trump scapegoat, allowing the president to avoid some of the political consequences of directly attacking Mueller as his probe escalates.

Trump this time is angry that Sessions referred the allegations of employee misconduct to the inspector general, but that's exactly what that office is charged with doing. Its lawyers are part of the department and, contrary to Trump's claims, can and often do refer matters for prosecution.

The office has been working on a separate review of the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation under former Director James Comey, but that report is not late and is expected to be released around March or April.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz's office has acknowledged receiving Sessions' request but hasn't said it is investigating. Horowitz was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama, as Trump noted. But years earlier, Horowitz was named in the Bush administration to a seat on the Sentencing Commission, suggesting he has more bipartisan bona fides than Trump acknowledges. Horowitz also launched the review of the FBI's handling of the Clinton case — the stated reason by Trump and Sessions for the dismissal of Comey in May.

GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, recently one of the FBI's toughest critics, defended Horowitz as "fair, fact-centric and appropriately confidential with his work."

Until now, Sessions had largely keep quiet in the face of Trump's verbal and social media volleys, faithfully executing the president's agenda on guns, drugs, violent crime and illegal immigration. Some within Sessions' own department had criticized that silence as straining morale and making him seem too eager to appease the president at the risk of dangerously politicizing the institution.

The two bonded early in Trump's campaign. But Trump has not been able to get over Sessions' withdrawal from the Russia investigation and has relentlessly belittled him and pressured him to investigate political rivals. The criticism was so harsh that Sessions offered last year to resign; Trump refused.

Sessions has since tried to get back into Trump's good graces. His request of the inspector general should have appeased Trump, as White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Tuesday it would.

"It's something that he's clearly had frustration over so I would imagine he certainly support the decision to look into what we feel to be some wrongdoing," she said. "I think that's the role of the Department of Justice and we're glad that they're fulfilling that job."

Iowa governor calls for 'holistic' approach to curbing gun violence

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds called for strengthening gun laws already on the books to combat gun violence and looking at all options, including arming classroom teachers, to decrease the likelihood of school shootings.

“I think it’s just really important to look at this from holistic perspective,” the governor said this week on “CBS This Morning.”

“We all have a role to play.”

Reynolds was in Washington for a National Governors Association meeting that included a meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday where gun control was discussed.

Reynolds called for strengthening laws already on the books, including doing “a better job with background checks, doing everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them whether they have mental illness or domestic abuse.”

Asked about arming classroom teachers, Reynolds said it’s a strategy that should be considered.

“I think we need to look at everything,” the Iowa Republican said. “I think that needs to be very thoughtful. It needs to be a local decision. I don’t think that’s something that should be mandated from the federal level.”

It also depends on teachers being vetted and having the proper training, Reynolds said.

Iowa law allows local school boards to decide whether to allow teachers to carry weapons in the classroom. Neither the Iowa Department of Education nor the Iowa Association of School Boards is aware of any districts that have granted teachers that permission.

Asked specifically about whether she thought her daughter, Jessica, a classroom teacher, should be armed, Reynolds said, “That’s a decision Jessica needs to make. We’ve had some pretty heart-to-heart conversations about what they are doing in their school.”

In addressing school shootings, Reynolds said it’s important not to look for just one solution.

“We need to look for ways to secure our schools — single point of entrance,” she said. “We need to make sure we have mental health counselors in our schools. We need to make sure we have, possibly, a law enforcement security guard in each one of the schools.”

She also talked about a “significant, comprehensive” mental health bill the Iowa House approved unanimously Tuesday “to make sure we have access and we are identifying needs sooner rather than later, so there’s a whole host of things we need to be looking at.”