Amy Hunter, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says it's time to discuss allowing school officials to carry firearms on campus.
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," McDonnell said on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show Tuesday.
"I know there is a knee-jerk reaction against that, but I think we should have a discussion about it."
McDonnell became the most prominent national Republican figure to speak in favor of gun rights since the shooting massacre that left 27 people dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.
In the days since, pro-gun camps have remained quiet on the topic -- most notably the National Rifle Association -- and several Republicans who formerly supported gun rights have come out in favor of increased gun control.
"If a person (like Sandy Hook's principal) was armed and trained, could they have stopped the carnage?" McDonnell posed. "Perhaps."
McDonnell's comments on WTOP elicited a strong reaction from Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. who says the governor's comments "blame the victims." (To hear Connolly's full interview listen to the audio to the right.)
McDonnell said he is still stunned by Friday's mass shooting and believes the immediate aftermath of such events is not the right time to make policy changes. However, a larger discussion about the related issues is appropriate.
"The key is don't over-react. Don't react when you're emotional because your policies might not be right. The key is looking at what works," he said.
Currently, laws in Virginia ban anyone from having a loaded gun while walking on school property. Residents with concealed carry permits may drive onto school property with their firearms loaded as long as they don't exit the vehicle, says Philip Van Cleave with the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Those who don't have a concealed carry permit, or permit holders who will need to exit their vehicle, are required to unload the firearm and put it into a separate, closed container before driving onto school property.
Law enforcement officers are exempt from such regulations.
McDonnell says he has ordered an audit of school safety policies, is reviewing current procedures and has created a task force of school officials, police, safety experts and parents to review school safety.
Virginia employs unarmed school resource officers to help at its public schools, McDonnell says. The number of these officers and their efficacy is one of the elements the newly-created task force will look into.
"My hope is that we're not at the point where when a little first- or second- grader comes into school, the first thing they see is a police officer with a gun," he said. "But obviously, we're going to do, first and foremost, what's right for children and what's right for public safety."
Focusing solely on gun control is not a comprehensive solution to this problem, McDonnell said several times during his one-hour interview. The health of our culture as a whole, access to mental health care, personal responsibility and Christian charity play a role in curbing America's violence, as well, he said.
"How are we going to be a more just and fair and compassionate society so people don't act out like this?"
In Virginia, people who have been deemed mentally unstable by a judge are automatically disqualified from purchasing or carrying a firearm, McDonnell said. He does not support "prior restraint" laws that he says prohibit law-abiding citizens from exercising their civil rights, such as owning guns or high-capacity magazines.
"We punish people for violating the law after the fact," he says. "We have our cherished 1st Amendment. We don't generally favor prior restraint."
Further, McDonnell does not believe that mandatory gun registration is an effective response to Friday's tragedy.
"A lengthy system of registering firearms, I don't know if that would work. It's really hard on me to comment on the multiple suggestions that are coming out," he said. "I can't tell you whether gun registration would work. It might make people feel good and feel safe, but I'm interested in what will work."
McDonnell talked about funding for mental health care in Virginia, the proposed budget amendments and transportation funding on Tuesday. Below is a live blog of the full interview.
Follow @WTOP on Twitter.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)