WASHINGTON — Congress should take immediate steps to prevent school shootings by focusing on the “common sense, obvious recommendations” that don’t involve a lot of spending and avoid the gun control debate, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said Thursday.
Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, convened a hearing to review what has been done at the local, state and federal levels to tackle school shooting situations.
Witnesses included experts as well as family members of those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 were killed and 17 more injured in February 2018.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has been leading the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission for the past 16 months, said it was “debatable if it could have been avoided, but it was undebatable that the horror could have been mitigated.”
He pointed out that Broward County did not have an active shooter policy; it finally passed one in February — more than a year after the Parkland shooting.
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, was killed at Parkland, said Broward County has installed analytic cameras in schools to provide the ability to detect changes in motion and other high-level video analysis, but has not implemented what the Federal Commission on School Safety called “Tier 1” measures — low-cost measures to enhance school safety such as locking doors or instituting active shooter policies.
Analytic cameras are a Tier 4 measure, he said.
“There are things schools can do, whether in rural Indiana or Florida,” he said, “(Active shooter trainings) are muscle memory. … Students need to be equipped with these life lessons to handle situations.”
Emphasizing that he is a “big proponent of the ‘Keep it simple stupid’ principle,” Johnson said he wants “the committee to design the most simple but most effective piece of legislation under our jurisdiction that grabs people’s attention.”
“The most important things we’ve got to do here don’t require a whole lot of funding so let’s concentrate first on that,” he said, “because for me the number one thing that we have to do is to create that sense of urgency so that every community, every school and every state is at least implementing those Tier 1 measures.”
After the Parkland school shooting last year, Wisconsin Republicans implemented a $100 million school safety grant program and also required schools to hold annual safety drills. Democrats criticized the bill for not including any gun control measures.
Thursday’s committee discussion in Washington largely sidestepped contentious issues until the hearing was nearly over, when Johnson brought up some state laws, such as one in Florida that allow police to ask the courts to temporarily allow police to take guns from people who may present a danger to others.
“It seems to me to make an awful lot of sense that you want to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and out of the hands of people with mental health problems,” he said. “But at the same time, I fully respect due process. There’s a real concern with what do you do about the not guilty yet.”
He said gun control is the most controversial aspect and asked for committee recommendations for whether or how to include such measures in school safety legislation.