In May of 2018, Santa Fe High School suffered in the latest mass shooting to take place on a school campus.
Ten people tragically lost their lives and 13 others were wounded.
Immediately following the shooting, Governor Abbot convened a “round table” to discuss how to reduce the likelihood of this happening on another Texas school campus. In the months since, many have wondered just exactly how the state would respond.
Texas, often seen as a bastion of freedom and gun rights, has not disappointed with their legislative dialogue in this current session.
While many topics of conversation of been on the table regarding how to secure our schools and colleges, there is one topic that has not been entertained – gun control.
The Texas Tribune reported on the numerous school safety bills up for debate. The Tribune noted:
“At Tuesday’s committee hearing — which ran for roughly eight hours — lawmakers laid out a bevy of school safety bills, a top priority for both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. Consideration of the legislation came almost a year after the Santa Fe shootings. Proposals included altering an existing state-sanctioned program to arm teachers and a sweeping measure that would expand emergency training and threat assessment teams in Texas schools.
Gun control wasn’t a topic of consideration at Tuesday’s hearing. Instead, lawmakers spent the bulk of their time discussing what could be done to prevent — or at least mitigate — the next mass tragedy. The proposals that earned the support of lawmakers of all political stripes included ones to strengthen security and mental health initiatives in schools.
“We have to have the threat assessment and we have to have the mental health, or else we’re going to lose this battle,” said Michael Matranga, the executive director of security and school safety for Texas City Independent School District.
(Editorial note: Mr. Matranga has agreed to sit down and have a conversation with Law Enforcement Today regarding what his district is doing to reduce the likelihood of an active assailant along with other security related issues, and how it correlates with the efforts of the Federal Task Force on School and Workplace Violence, which is detailed later in this writing.)
So, if gun control is not on the table in Texas, what is? The Tribune also followed up with a story that details that the Texas Senate has passed a bill that “will remove a cap on the number of school personnel that can carry firearms at schools.”
In the first legislative session after a deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 dead and 13 others wounded, the Texas Senate on Monday advanced a bill that would abolish the limit on how many trained school employees — known as school marshals — can carry guns on campus.
Under the marshal program, school personnel whose identities are kept secret from all but a few local officials, are trained to act as armed peace officers in the absence of law enforcement. Currently, schools that participate in the program can only designate one marshal per 200 student or one marshal per building.
“School districts need to be able to tailor the school marshal program for their unique needs,” State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican who authored Senate Bill 244, said about the legislation last week. “SB 244 removes those limitations in statute on the school marshal program to accommodate the unique needs of districts across the state …”
The bill passed by a 20-10 margin, with only Democrats opposing the measure. It will now go to the Texas House for debate, where Republicans hold 95 of the 150 seats.
Diving deeper into school security in Texas, one of the organizations leading that charge is the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) located at Texas State University in San Marcos.
Created in 1999 by former Governor George W. Bush and authorized by the 77th Texas Legislature in 2001, the TxSSC is an official university-level research center at Texas State University.
The TxSSC is tasked in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code and the Governor’s Homeland Security Strategic Plan with key school safety initiatives and mandates.
Specifically, the TxSSC serves as a clearinghouse for the dissemination of safety and security information through research, training, and technical assistance for K-12 schools and junior colleges throughout the state of Texas.
In addition, the TxSSC also builds partnerships among youth, adults, schools, law enforcement officers, and community stakeholders to reduce the impact of tobacco on all Texans through prevention, training and enforcement initiatives.
The topics that are in the purview of the TxSSC include bullying, violence, mental health, drugs, digital safety, emergency management, school-based law enforcement and youth leadership. The one item that seems to be noticeably absent from their conversations is electronic safety and security (ESS).
While solutions such as access control, surveillance, gunshot detection, etc., are not the only platforms for mitigating mass casualty situations, they certainly play an important part.
Making schools a gun-free zone makes no sense.
And while I think Texas legislators should be congratulated for pursuing legislation that allows for more armed personnel as well as more school-based law enforcement, rather than bowing to the left-leaning ideology that gun control measures will prevent bad actors from committing gun-related offenses, I believe that should be included in the conversations as a platform that helps address prevention, detection, response and mitigation.
Much of what the TxSSC is identical to what is being addressed by the members of the Federal Task Force on School and Workplace Violence, formerly known as Operation Innocence.
Members of this task force come from different walks of professional life. Some are law enforcement. Others are former military. Some live in the world of security solutions and training, while others are educators. Most are entrepreneurs. No matter their background, they all have one thing in common, and that is providing a holistic approach to safeguarding our nation’s greatest assets, our children.
The task force’s mission:
To protect our children in schools by activating the most able-bodied and able-minded individuals in America. To allow our children to maintain their innocence and focus on normal childhood development for as long as possible by creating an environment protected from as many threats of violence as possible.
The objectives of the task force are as follows:
1) To put together a comprehensive and strategic plan for school districts with meaningful processes that can be implemented immediately at little to no cost to protect students. These recommendations will NOT require any changes to the law but will instead be comprised of simple and common-sense solutions.
2) To put together a series of bipartisan recommendations for our lawmakers. You may have noticed that there are no lawmakers on the task force. That’s for a reason. They’ve proven that they are unable to separate politics from protection… so we will do it for them. We will vet the recommendations of ALL Americans… from executives and law enforcement to janitors and stay at home parents. Congress seems to be operating in a vacuum of thought leadership. We will fill that void with the power of everyday Americans.
3) To vet out possible strategies and recommendations from a cost perspective and ensure that the concepts aren’t just focused on safety… they are focused on fiscal responsibility. When politicians get involved, budgets fall apart. When entrepreneurs, business leaders and Americans who must balance their household budgets get involved… things get PAID FOR.
4) To create a business consortium of companies and products focused on the security of our children. From security options to insurance companies that will offer discounts for implementing recommended precautions… from businesses that want to donate to schools to individuals who want to volunteer their time, talent and treasures… we will find the resources and the support networks to support our recommendations.
Texas, that bastion of freedom. Once again, they are leading the way. I am proud to be a Texan. I am proud to be a member of the Task Force on School and Workplace Violence (Operation Innocence). I am proud to work everyday to create solutions for school districts that allow them to secure our future by protecting students, staff and faculty.