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Gov. Chris Christie Appoints Gun Violence Task Force As Forum Held In Ewing

Gov. Chris Christie with officials at the Statehouse in Trenton - Jan. 17, 2013 (credit: Tim Larsen / Governor's Office)

Gov. Chris Christie with officials at the Statehouse in Trenton – Jan. 17, 2013 (credit: Tim Larsen / Governor’s Office)

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FORT LEE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has appointed a task that will study the roots of violence.

The move comes as school administrators met Friday morning as part of a forum called “Safe and Secure Schools: Perspectives After Newtown.”

The way Gov. Christie sees it, guns are just one piece of a very complicated puzzle, and that’s why he has assembled the task force of experts to study the root causes of violence in New Jersey.

“So, if we’re really trying to accomplish violence control, then we need to have a more effective way to deal with the mentally ill, who commit violent acts, get them treatment, get them committed if we need to, to get them off the streets,” Christie said earlier in the week. “The fact of the matter is that young man in Connecticut that has spurred all this current conversation, was obviously deeply mentally disturbed. Why was he not getting treatment?”

The panel includes two former New Jersey Attorneys General, a school superintendent, and experts in substance abuse and mental health issues. It will have 60 days to report its findings.

The members of the task force, formally called the NJ SAFE Task Force, are as follows:

- Former Attorney General and Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Peter G. Verniero (Clinton Township, Hunterdon), Co-Chairman
– Former Attorney General John J. Degnan (Chester Township, Morris), Co-Chairman
– Dr. Manuel Guantez, LCADC, Chief Executive Officer, Turning Point, Inc. (Fairfield, Essex)
– James Romer, Monmouth County Services Director, Monmouth Medical Center (Howell, Monmouth)
– Evelyn Sullivan, Managing Director, Daytop Village of New Jersey (Manahawkin, Ocean)
– Dr. Brian Zychowski, Superintendent of North Brunswick Township Public Schools (Mendham, Morris)

Critics would like to see stricter gun laws now.

Christie hasn’t issued any opinions about New York’s new gun law or President Barack Obama’s campaign against assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips. Instead, he is looking to start a broader conversation.

“So I know that what some people want to just focus on exclusively is gun control and I’m happy to talk about that as part of an overall approach cause what we’re trying to do here, as I understand it, is not gun control. It’s violence control,” Christie said.

He wants to explore the root causes of violence. Is it video games, a de-sensitized culture, a lack of attention to the needs of the mentally ill, or some combination of these elements? That’s what he wants to find out from the task force.

“If we don’t deal with the availability and the stigma attached to mental health counseling, if we don’t deal with the stigma attached to and the availability of substance abuse counseling, and if we don’t deal with the issue of violence in media and especially in video games, then we are short-changing this conversation,” he said.

On Thursday, Christie blasted the National Rifle Association for its new television ad which targets President Obama’s children for having armed security.

At the forum on school safety held at the College of New Jersey in Ewing this morning, a lot of notes were scribbled on Belleville Police Captain Victor Meshing’s pad.

“Trying to stay abreast of all the new thinking that’s out there,” he told WCBS 880 reporter Levon Putney.

That includes being proactive in schools and improving communication between schools and police.

“How to identify some of the troubled students,” he said.

That will be a topic next week at another panel in Bergen County.

“And it will include the local police officials, community members,” said Northern Valley Regional School superintendent Christopher Nagy.

“In the tragedy, there’s silver lining, and the silver lining is what can we learn? How can we be better?” he said at the forum Friday.

“Whatever we’re doing, we have to improve,” said Dr. Lawrencec Feinsod, who heads the New Jersey School Boards Association.

As for the idea of having cops in schools, Meshing said, “There’s two philosophies – having armed retired officers and then there’s that of having police officers in schools.”

“The hot button issues are armed guards, security cameras, metal detectors, and panic buttons,” said state Education Department emergency preparedness director Anthony Bland.

He said those things to deter, but do not cut out, senseless violence.

“What we can do is make sure that our schools know their roles and responsibilities,” he said.

What do you think should be done in New Jersey? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.