Texas Governor Pushes School Safety Plan in Wake of Shooting

(CN) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a plan to address school and firearm safety Wednesday, calling for a more robust law enforcement presence in schools, getting more teachers licensed to carry firearms, and conducting mental health evaluations to identify students at risk of harming others.

The governor released his plan a day after the first day of classes for students at Santa Fe High School since the May 18 campus shooting that killed 10 people.

In this May 4, 2018, photo, Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Dallas. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

“Everybody in the state of Texas never wants to see another occasion where innocent children are gunned down in their own schools,” Abbott said at a press conference in Dallas on Wednesday.

In the aftermath of the Sante Fe shooting, the governor met with 100 shooting survivors and their families and hosted three days of roundtable discussions with students, educators, law enforcement officials, and mental health and school safety experts.

Solutions proposed during those bipartisan discussions informed Abbott’s new School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. The 44-page plan includes actions that can be implemented immediately and others that will need to be approved by the Legislature, which reconvenes in January. The plan focuses on making schools safer, preventing threats in advance, and enhancing firearms safety.

“No one provided a more powerful voice for those strategies than the victims themselves,” Abbott said.

The governor wants to immediately boost law enforcement presence at schools and prioritize hiring retired peace officers and military veterans as school security officers.

He also wants to increase the number of school marshals — teachers who are trained and licensed to carry concealed weapons at schools — and said he will fund training programs this summer.

The governor quoted a Sante Fe High School senior who participated in his roundtable discussions, who said: “Arming teachers, and not knowing who is armed, that is what we need.” The school had an armed guard at the time of the shooting.

The governor’s plan includes several measures to prevent school shootings in advance by increasing mental health programs, expanding on-campus counseling resources and launching a mobile app called “iWatch Texas” that will allow people to more easily report potential threats.

“As long as mental health challenges trouble our children, there will never be enough safety barriers that we can build to protect our students,” Abbott said.  “If, however, we can address mental health challenges faced by our students, it will do more than just make our schools safer, it will also build a better future for those children as well as for our state.”

Abbott – who in his first term as governor signed laws allowing concealed carry of weapons on college campuses and open carry of handguns elsewhere in public – said Wednesday that while he would never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed, he would “always promote responsible gun ownership.”

“And that includes keeping them out of the hands of criminals,” he said.

To do so, the governor proposes changing the current firearm storage law, which requires parents of children aged 16 and younger to safely store their firearms. Abbott is proposing raising that age to 17 and younger.

The governor also wants to require gun owners to report when their firearms are lost or stolen, and mandate a 48-hour reporting period, rather than the current 30-day period, to close gaps in federally mandated background checks to ensure that courts disqualify felons from gun ownership as quickly as possible.

Abbott said he will ask Texas Senate and House leaders to consider a “red flag” law which would allow law enforcement, family members, school employees, or a district attorney to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person.

In a statement Wednesday, the Texas House Democratic Caucus said it supports many of Abbott’s ideas and should the governor decide to call a special legislative session, Democrats are ready to work with Republican colleagues on gun violence prevention issues.

But the caucus added that the governor should acknowledge the lack of resources in Texas public schools, which were struck with a $5.4 billion budget cut in 2011 that has not been fully reversed.

“We know that the lack of adequate state funding hurts academic performance, but it also has other negative impacts — including reduced resources for security, counseling services, and more,” the caucus said.

Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, a gun violence prevention nonprofit that participated in Abbott’s discussions, told Courthouse News she was happy to hear that certain measures her organization has been advocating for years were included in Abbott’s plan, including mental health support and laws that would keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

However, she said that more should be done to improve background checks, and that her group does not support arming teachers.

“More guns don’t make places safer,” Switzer said. “It’s been proven over and over again.”

Abbott said there is $110 million in funding, including $70 million that is already available, to begin implementation of his plan and that he would work with the Legislature next session to get another $30 million.

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