"The first priority is to harden the schools"

  • 22 March 2018
  • NormanL
"The first priority is to harden the schools"

We've written a lot about the national response to school shootings, and the research surrounding different proposals. But what's happening inside individual congressional districts? Virginia Rep. Dave Brat recently met with local school officials and law enforcement to get their take on what Congress should do:

Brat said the group agreed that placing a professional security person at the front of every school, introducing a “holistic approach” to mental health problems that would address the “known aggressive cases” and connecting the dots concerning those threat cases with local law enforcement are three keys he’d focus on in drafting any legislation.

“It was incredible to hear all of these professionals agree that underneath the violent cases often lies severe family trauma and students with low to no coping abilities,” Brat said. “Underlying the mental health status and violence is a lack of love.”

Brat did not specify what any legislation to address student trauma might entail.

Keene said he was honored to represent the school division at the roundtable.

“Recommendations from the discussions included employing professional security officers, introducing comprehensive approaches to mental health, identifying threatening behaviors in students and making the infrastructure of our schools safer,” Keene said.

In a related piece on the meeting, Brat elaborated on what the group discussed:

Brat said the consensus forming in his district matches recommendations from national experts. The first priority is to harden the schools. We know how to protect places – we do it all the time for public arenas and commercial properties. Along with increasing physical security, however, there is a critical need to focus on children and youth. Brat described three main recommendations that he said came from his constituents.

“The first was to put at least one professional security person at the front of every school. Second is to introduce a holistic approach to mental health which begins early on in the school system and addresses the known aggressive cases. And the third is to connect the dots concerning those threat cases with local law-enforcement.”

Dave Brat ran on a platform of listening to voters, of staying in touch with people where he lives and works. His outreach on preventing shootings is consistent with that platform. Brat signaled shortly after the Parkland shooting that he would analyze the issue carefully, thoughtfully, without preconceived ideas.

“I will be traveling my district listening to all stakeholders … While I am not supportive of taking anyone’s constitutional rights away, individuals on both sides of this debate are going to have to listen and think through these difficult issues together.”

These are the kind of thoughtful steps, and discussions, we would hope all members of Congress would engage in before rushing to pass whatever sort of legislation crosses their desks. And if the points coming out of Brat's meeting sound a little familiar, they are largely in line with the approach of the National School Shield program.

And, regrettably, one of the points of both Brat and the National Shield's recommendations was underlined Tuesday, when a gunman enetered a Maryland high school. The school's armed and trained security officer, who is also a deputy sheriff, responded immediately, and prevented greater harm:

As soon as the gunfire began, Gaskill rushed to the scene. He fired a round at the shooter, who also fired a round at the same time, Cameron said.

It's not yet clear whether the shooter, Austin Wyatt Rollins, was felled by the officer's bullet or killed himself.

"DFC [Deputy First Class] Gaskill fired at the shooter ... almost simultaneously as the shooter fired," Cameron said. "This is something we train, practice and in reality, hope would never come to fruition. This is our worst nightmare."

Gov. Larry Hogan called Gaskill "a very capable school resource officer who also happened to be a SWAT team member."

"This is a tough guy who apparently closed in very quickly and took the right kind of action," he said. "And while I think it's still tragic, he may have saved other people's lives."