Texas laws changed
On Sept. 1, the day after the Odessa-Midland shooting, a series of laws expanding where firearms are allowed went into place. The laws were signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June. Their effects include:
– Allowing licensed gun owners to keep guns and ammunition in their vehicles in school parking lots as long as they are out of sight.
– Allowing schools to have more armed marshals on campus.
– Defending licensed gun owners if they unknowingly bring a firearm into a gun free zone, as long as they leave after being informed.
However, many Texas officials have started fighting for additional laws after the state experienced two mass shootings in one month.
A bill was passed that will require all school districts in the state to have bleeding control kits on all campuses and provide training on how to use them by Jan. 1, 2020. These kits include supplies such as tourniquets, chest seals and bandages.
On Sept. 5, Abbott issued eight executive orders with the goal of stopping potential mass shooters.
On Sept. 12, Abbott released his “Texas Safety Action Report,” which focuses on strengthening reporting techniques between local and federal authorities, increasing the enforcement of current gun laws and making punishments more severe.
The report doesn’t require background checks for private gun sales, but it does suggest that the Legislature should make it “easy, affordable and beneficial” for private sellers to enforce background checks.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has openly discouraged allowing people to sell guns to strangers without a background check and has said that he’s willing to go against the NRA, despite the past support he’s given and received from the group. Last year, Patrick received 100 percent ratings from both the NRA and the Texas State Rifle Association.
“Look, I’m a solid NRA guy,” Patrick told the Dallas Morning News. “But not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger to stranger sale makes no sense to me.”
Patrick announced that had worked closely with Abbott in writing the recommendations. The governor has expressed similar views and concerns as Patrick.
“Right now, there is nothing in law that would prevent one stranger from selling a gun to a terrorist and obviously that’s a danger that needs to be looked into,” Abbott told The Dallas Morning News.
Sen. Ted Cruz is still in favor of the bill he introduced with Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2013 after the Sandy Hook shooting, called the Grassley-Cruz amendment. It focused on improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, increasing resources for prosecutions of gun crime, addressing mental illness and strengthening criminal law. The bill received support from many senators in 2013 and got a positive vote of 52-48 in the Senate, when Republicans were in the minority.
The bill was reintroduced in May as the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2019. It focuses on ensuring that relevant agencies and institutions, such as firearms dealers, are able to access the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, criminalizing gun trafficking and buying firearms for people unable to do so themselves and increasing federal prosecution of gun violence.
In the school
A little over two years ago, the district put together a committee of teachers, parents and students from all over the district to look at come up with potential school safety measures.
Student Assistance Counselor Michelle Schwolert thinks that protecting students, both physically and mentally, is of utmost importance.
“Everyone has basic needs that have to be met for them to feel healthy and one of them is safety,” Schwolert said. “If students are not feeling safe, that affects their health and their happiness and just being able to function on a daily basis.”
A major part of the most recent bond package passed by voters is a new front door security system, which was recently put into place. This requires that everyone enters the building through the front during school hours and shows their ID to a camera to be let in.
IDs are strongly enforced on campus. According to Assistant Principal Jason Mullin, they’re important because they help adults on campus identify who is supposed to be there.
“It’s really easy to see,” Mullin said. “The lanyard makes it even easier because you can see that from a distance, ‘okay, that’s a Marcus student.’ Then when we see the color on the ID, we know that’s this year’s label, this year’s Marcus student.”
Lockdown drills are a regular procedure on campus, and can be modified to fit a wide range of situations, according to Mullin. For example, in the past students were kept in their classrooms during a passing period so a student with a medical emergency in the hall could get help quickly. If there was a situation in a nearby neighborhood or business, the school would implement a lockout, meaning nobody could leave or enter the building.
“The lockdown drill is a little bit more encompassing,” Mullin said. “It covers several other options or several different scenarios. So that’s what we focus on and that’s what we practice.”
Over the summer, the staff received training in Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE). The program’s main focus is to avoid, deny and defend. It puts emphasis on ways to reduce the chances of an active shooting and how to protect people involved if one occurs.
Mullin wants to reassure students that safety is being taken seriously on campus, from the security aspect as well as student wellness.
“The best thing I can say to students is just know that this is something that we have people in the district, people on our campus that that is their focus every single day and that is what we work on,” Mullin said.
Schwolert also credited the district and school, saying she thinks they’re doing a good job at giving students this reassurance.
“I know the district, the county, the state and the country are doing things to enhance campus safety,” Schwolert said. “So the best we can do is make our students feel safe in this moment, in this environment, at this school, with these people.”
This story was originally published on The Marquee on October 3, 2019.