DALLAS - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled what he dubbed a School and Firearm Safety Action Plan on Wednesday. The 40-page document outlines 40 strategies to make Texas schools safer. It was released 12 days after a 17-year-old shot and killed ten students and teachers at a high school in Santa Fe, outside of Houston.
The plan encourages districts to add more armed personnel to campuses and strengthen relationships with law enforcement while it also asks state legislators to consider strengthening laws to require more vigilance from gun owners.
Abbott developed his plan after holding a series of roundtable discussions with more than 100 victims, school and community leaders, and advocates on all sides of the gun rights issue.
“No one provided a more powerful voice for those strategies than the victims themselves,” Abbott said at a news conference in Dallas where he was surrounded by state lawmakers and local leaders.
“We all share a common bond. We want action to prevent another shooting like what happened at Santa Fe High School,” he added.
Abbott said a key priority is heightening security on campus. He suggests schools collaborate with local police departments to ensure police officers are regularly patrolling schools and using empty offices or classrooms to do paperwork or file reports. He is also encouraging schools to prioritize hiring retired officers and veterans as school resource officers.
He suggests expanding Texas’ school marshal program, which allows properly trained teachers and staff members to be armed on school grounds. Current law allows for one armed staff member per 200 students. He proposes lowering that ratio to one per 100 students. While he called for increased funding for summer training to accredit additional school marshals, he suggested removing the law that requires them to lock their guns in safes. Instead, he believes marshals should carry their guns on their bodies during the school day.
Abbott said the state is not mandating that districts institute the marshal program.
“We want them to be aware of the value of the tool and encourage them to use it, but I do think it would be wrong to dictate that they adopt the program because different schools have different needs,” Abbott said.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said it’s not something he would recommend. “It’s just not something we think is a good idea in our context,” he said. “We have many other ideas to keep our students safe and that’s not one we’re interested in at this point.”
Abbott also addressed access to guns.
“I can assure you I will never allow second amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership and that includes keeping guns safe and keeping them out of the hands of criminals,” he said.
Abbott wants Texas’ safe firearm storage law strengthened. The law currently requires gun owners in homes where children are under 17 to securely store their weapons, which is why the law didn’t apply in the case of the Santa Fe shooting suspect. Abbott wants to change that law to apply to families with children under 18.
He also encouraged lawmakers to consider a “red flag” law, which would allow law enforcement agents, family members, school employees or a district attorney to file an order of protection seeking the removal of a weapon from a potentially dangerous person.
Abbott also wants to require gun owners to report a lost or stolen gun within 10 days and he wants to hold courts to a 48-hour rule to tell law enforcement if a court deems someone unfit to purchase or possess a firearm.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the governor’s initiatives are a strong start.
“This is not a partisan issue, this is a Texas issue,” he said. “We’ve got to make certain that our children, regardless of what schools they are in, are protected. We don’t put red and blue on at this time. We drape ourselves in the Texas flag.”
Abbott laid out $120 million in suggested funding sources – mostly federal grants – to implement the measures, which also include additional active shooter training, infrastructure changes to school buildings and an expansion of mental health intervention programs.
Some of the measures will require action from state lawmakers. Abbott said a special summer session for the legislature is not out of the question.