Gov. Abbott Hosts First Roundtable On School Safety After Santa Fe Shooting

May 22, 2018

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott today convened the first of three roundtable discussions on "school and community safety" in response to Friday's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

"Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you are pro-gun or believe in more gun regulations, the reality is we all want guns out of the hands of those who would try to murder our children," Abbott said at the start of the meeting, which included lawmakers and school and public safety officials.

"The question is: What are we, the leaders of Texas, going to do to prevent this from happening again?" he asked. 

Leading state lawmakers have already suggested some answers, ranging from reducing abortions to increasing school security.

The governor said he wants to explore ways to "harden" public schools against potential attacks. The idea is likely to get a lot of attention at today's meeting, which includes school safety experts and an architect. 

The meeting itself happened in private to help participants speak freely. Abbott has said the ideas that arise in these roundtables will inform new legislation when lawmakers meet again next year. But experts say stricter gun rules, a solution favored by most Democrats, don't have a good chance of getting to the governor's desk.

Abbott is using the roundtables as a way of "framing what we're going to see in the 2019 legislative session," Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, said.

"The response by the Republican majority will be overwhelmingly focused on how do we make schools safer via architecture, via more armed patrols, via metal detectors and the like," he said.  

After the meeting, Abbott shared some of the ideas that were generated. He listed about 20 different proposals, including some that were familiar, like restricting access points into schools and more funding for a program that trains teachers to carry guns. Other ideas seemed new, like statewide monitoring of student social media, mandatory parental training to reduce school shootings and programs to reward students for sharing information about potential shooters.

One idea the governor said found near unanimous support was mental health threat assessments for students.

"It is one way of identifying mental health challenges for students and helping respond to those challenges," he said.

Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton, who chairs the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, said the talk was productive.

“I think this time they’ve got their attention," he said. "I think something going to happen.

Though there were proposals that worried him, including one that would allow school police officers to ticket students for infractions in school, which was banned by state lawmakers five years ago.  

The issue of metal detectors was also floated.

"We actually have metal detectors," said Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of Dallas Independent School District. "It's more about vestibules controlling your access, and if you have controlled access you can better monitor it and we talked about that in there.”

Tomorrow's roundtable will address "gun regulations, mental health solutions and underlying causes of gun violence." The final meeting Thursday will address the needs of victims. 

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