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Abbott Prioritizes Increasing Mental Health Services, 'Hardening' Schools To Reduce Shootings

Gov. Greg Abbott on May 22, 2018 at the first of three roundtable discussions on school shootings in Texas. (Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT)

Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a plan this morning to increase school safety in Texas after the Santa Fe High School shooting. The plan offered suggestions that focused on “hardening schools” and increasing mental health services through as much as $120 million in federal and state grants for schools.

By Andrew Weber, KUT News

Nobody in Texas "wants to see another occasion where innocent children are gunned down in their own schools,” Gov. Abbott said as he rolled out the 40-page plan at the Dallas Independent School District headquarters.

Abbott’s blueprint suggests reducing school exits, increasing the use of metal detectors, expanding the state’s school marshal program – which allows school staff to carry concealed firearms – and creating an alert system that’s tailored specifically to active-shooter situations.

“When an active-shooter situation arises, the difference between life and death can be a matter of seconds,” Abbott said. “Trained security personnel can make all the difference.”

The governor said his plan would increase the number of possible school marshals at any given school and could provide funding to train them as soon as this summer. He recommended increasing law enforcement presence on campuses by using $62 million in additional federal funding.

Abbott also emphasized expanding mental health services. He highlighted a Texas Tech University program that monitors social media for possibly dangerous students to connect them with mental health and counseling programs. Abbott said today he’d like to see the program, known as TWITR, expanded across Texas with up to $20 million in state money.

While the plan was light on any gun control policy suggestions, Abbott did suggest state lawmakers tweak the state’s safe storage law, which currently wouldn’t apply to the parents of the Santa Fe suspect, who allegedly used his father’s guns in the shooting.

The law defines a child as anyone under the age of 16, meaning the 17-year-old suspect's parents couldn’t be held liable for improperly storing the firearms. Abbott said he would like the Legislature to raise that age to 18. He also suggested lawmakers change state law to require reporting of lost or stolen guns and bolster restrictions on firearms for those deemed dangerous or mentally unfit by a court.

He added that he would support a program to promote safe gun storage that could provide 100,000 gunlocks for Texans – but that he wouldn’t support laws requiring mandatory storage.

“I can assure you, I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed," Abbott said, "but I will always promote responsible gun ownership, and that includes keeping guns safe and keeping them out of the hands of criminals."

Abbott said the plan was a “starting point” for lawmakers and school officials, but that he wouldn’t likely call a special session of the Legislature to address school shootings.

“It doesn’t take a mandate from the state of Texas to get schools, teachers, educators and superintendents interested and focused on what they need to do to keep their students safe,” he said. “They don’t need mandates from the state. They need assistance from the state.”

Read the full plan below:

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.