Valpo parent urges VCS to provide firearm safety information | #schoolsaftey

A Valparaiso parent has urged Valparaiso Community Schools since early this year to provide parents with information on safe firearm storage, but the school district claims that would preempt a state law enacted in July.

Emilie Hunt is a parent of two children attending Valparaiso schools. For the last six years, she has been advocating for gun violence prevention and giving presentations on firearm safety throughout Northwest Indiana.

Hunt says she became involved after noticing more news stories about mass shootings and unintentional shootings involving children.

According to the CDC, 2,542 children died last year due to firearms. In Northwest Indiana, four children have died in incidents involving a firearm since July 2022. Most recently, a 5-year-old Gary boy died after reportedly getting ahold of a handgun.

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Hunt started asking VCS about distributing safe firearm storage material after lockdowns at Valparaiso High School in January that were caused by threats made to the school.

Superintendent Jim McCall told The Times the school district relies on the Valparaiso police and fire departments, as well as the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, to provide public service announcements relating to safety.

Hunt says by that point, those agencies were aware of the materials, since she had provided the information to them.

According to Porter County police Sgt. Benjamin McFalls, some of the material provided had statistics with conflicting information when he did his own research online. McFalls says he is careful with what information is shared by the sheriff’s office.

Throughout the next several months, Hunt followed up with the school district, during which time she received a handful of responses from McCall and none from school board members.

In May, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law House Bill 1177, which provides firearm training for Indiana teachers. In addition, it mandates the Indiana Department of Education work with state police on creating firearm safety materials and provide school districts with those materials to distribute to parents starting next year.

McCall says since the state law directs those state agencies to develop educational material regarding safe gun storage, VCS would not supersede them in creating and distributing that information unless local law enforcement created their own material. He says it would help avoid mixed messaging.

Hunt says she disagrees with McCall’s rationale.

According to an IDOE spokesperson, HB 1177 does not prohibit schools from distributing their own firearm safety materials.

Hunt says that when she was not getting responses from the school board, she submitted a firearm safety resolution to the Valparaiso City Council. According to her, the mayor, Matt Murphy, refused to add the resolution to the council’s agenda. Ultimately, the council voted against considering the resolution.

Hunt is now running against Murphy, who opted to run for an at-large council seat instead.

She says she won’t stop urging VCS to distribute firearm safety material until it happens.

“As a parent, I receive reminders about internet safety, railroad safety and DARE materials.,” Hunt said. “But for some reason, a simple reminder on safe firearm storage is too much. That doesn’t make sense.”

Hunt will be providing a presentation on firearm safety at the Michigan City Public Library on Sept. 12 at 5:30 p.m. The event will be hosted by the League of Women Voters of LaPorte County.

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