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Petitions on guns backed by NEA

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CHICAGO — The National Education Association voted Monday to launch a petition drive for Congress to pass "meaningful gun control" next year.

After a vigorous debate, a clear majority of the more than 9,000 delegates supported the motion urging affiliates of the teachers union to collect signatures on petitions favoring "licensure, registration, bullet imprinting, child safety locks, (and) mandatory background checks including waiting periods."

With a membership of 2.5 million, equal to nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population, they hope to gather millions of signatures and submit them to Congress by Feb. 1.

The vote came after a slain Florida teacher was memorialized in 20 seconds of silence observed by delegates at the convention here

of the 2.5-million-member NEA and at the convention in Philadelphia of the 1 million-member American Federation of Teachers.

"In the last minutes of the last day of this school year in Lake Worth, Florida, a 13-year-old student shot teacher Barry Grunow in the face and killed him," said NEA President Bob Chase.

Chase said that when he and AFT President Sandy Feldman attended a memorial service for Grunow in Palm Beach County, they learned that Grunow was "a devoted father, an inspired teacher, (who) shared his passion for literature with all his children — at home and in school."

"In respect to Barry, and to show the resolve of both our unions to support common-sense gun laws — our resolve to make America safe for children and teachers — we will now join with our brothers and sisters in the AFT in a moment of silence," Chase said.

After that emotional moment, it was difficult for opponents of the petition drive to keep the attention of other delegates during the debate at Chicago's McCormick Place.

"Rather than calling for gun control, we need to call for parental control and responsibility," said Cindy Gaskins of Gwinnett County, Ga. She said the law would let bureaucrats endanger her family by trying to force her to keep childproof locks on guns she kept in her home for self-protection.

"It seems to me that metal detectors are more useful than gun control in protecting the schools," said David Trim, a hunter who teaches English in a high school in Hattiesburg, Miss. "It seems to me it would be better to control TV shows and video games and movies that promote violence."

But strong proponents of gun control were unmoved, and others who didn't feel strongly went along with the leadership's request for approval of a petition drive.

"We're such a small, out-of-the-way place, we just don't have the violence problems," said Lorraine Mares, who teaches third-graders in the South Conejos school district in Colorado.

"Some people used to say that in my school district before last month," responded Perra Unger of West Palm Beach, Fla., who taught in the same system as Grunow.

"I support gun control just as strongly as Bob Chase does," Unger said. "We are teachers; we are not soldiers."

On the Web: National Education Association: www.nea.org

American Federation of Teachers: www.aft.org