BELLEVILLE — About 50 people came out to Conqueror's Christian Center on Saturday to participate in a discussion about whether teachers and pastors should be armed, the mindset of a killer, an individual's right to carry a gun, and more gun control issues.
The Rev. John L. Curry, pastor of Conqueror's Christian Center, moderated the event. From the start, he made it clear that the discussion was not about taking guns away from people.
The panel included Mark Eckert, Belleville mayor; Jeff Dosier, superintendent of Belleville School District 201; Ken Kubicek, a professor at Lindenwood University; Pastor Curtis Nunn, from East St. Louis; Matt Klostermann, superintendent of Belleville School District 118; and William Clay, Belleville police chief.
A majority of the panel and audience said teachers should not be armed.
Three Belleville West High School seniors, Jaareshiah Quarles, Marquis Cherry and Shawn Cable, all said it was not a good idea.
"It doesn't create a good learning atmosphere for students. It makes for more tension and takes away from learning," Quarles said.
Cherry doesn't think teachers need to be armed in classrooms because "it would increase danger in the school.
"Teachers would be carrying weapons and students would know about it. You never know what mindset the students are in. It's just not a good idea," Cherry said.
Klosterman said he doesn't believe in guns in the classrooms. He said two of his children attended Belleville West, and he currently has a son at the school. He and his wife are OK with the armed school resource officer.
Eckert, who was a police officer 30 years ago, told the sometimes spirited audience there is no easy answer to the violence, "but we can't stop, we can't give up.
"We have to work with community and state leaders on the shortfall when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. They have become homeless, and the programs they were able to be a part of have been cut. And, because of their circumstances they've become agitated and angry and violence tends to erupt," Eckert said.
Eckert said people in the community need to start talking and paying more attention to each other.
He said that, 10 years ago, he would not have believed the city would needed to hire two police officers to be at city council meetings. But after the shooting incident at the Kirkwood, Mo., City Hall, changes were made.
Clay said people don't have guns locked in cases in their homes or cars. And, when thieves break in, they are looking for weapons.
"I am not opposed to gun laws. Most people are legal owners. But, people are breaking into homes and finding guns in cars and in the trunks of them. We need to know the victims and offenders, where the crime is occurring on a day to day basis to craft a plan," Clay said.
He also told the audience he was raised on Chicago's southside where "there are 3 million people living there and there are 25-30 homicides there a month. Eighty percent of them are happening on the southside, south west and west side and all are predominately black. If we're not going to address the real issue of gun violence, then we're wasting our time. It's about a culture of violence drugs and gangs."
Curry said some black leaders, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network and the Rev. Jessie Jackson have been trying to address black on black crime for years.
Clay said just going after assault weapons won't solve the problems. He said many young people are dying because of handguns.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.