SUNY Cortland talks gun control, remembers alumna killed in Newtown

SUNY Cortland professor and gun law expert Robert Spitzer spoke with students and staff about the threat of gun violence in schools.

On Tuesday night, students at SUNY Cortland came together for a "teach-in" to learn about the threats posed by guns in schools.

This comes in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting that claimed the lives of 27 innocent students and educators, including SUNY Cortland graduate Mary Sherlach. She graduated in 1978, and was a guidance counselor at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Sherlach was one of the first to run toward the gunshots the morning of the shooting. "Everyone who knew Mary commented to the press that that's exactly what they expected her to do," said Michelle Kelly, associate professor in the School of Education's Foundations and Social Advocacy Department. "She was always there. She was always ready to take the lead and to intervene when needed."

SUNY Cortland professor and gun law expert Robert Spitzer also spoke to students, explaining that what happened in Newtown was tragic, but a very rare occurence. He said the odds of being shot in school are one in a million, giving schools reason to look at the bigger picture. "Having an armed presence in school could be one way to address the safety issue," Spitzer explained. "It's not the only way to address the safety question. There are many ways to improve safety, and guns represent only one."

For students, particularly those studying to become teachers, the experience was unnerving, but also inspiring, given Sherlach's actions. "We are a big teaching school, and this happened in an elementary school, which is really scary," said Lisa Daly, a president of the school's Education Club.

"I feel like she'd be a role model for everyone going into the field of education here, and give them something to look back on," added Kimberly Helser, also a president of the Education Club.

SUNY Cortland is honoring Sherlach with a scholarship in her name. The award will be given out this fall to a student majoring in psychology.