Texas Politics

School safety: Social media monitoring, limiting gun access among Texas lawmakers' ideas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke during a press conference in the wake of a school shooting at Santa Fe High School on Friday, May 18, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke during a press conference in the wake of a school shooting at Santa Fe High School on Friday, May 18, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. The Galveston County Daily News

Put metal detectors at schools. Check out students — and their social media accounts — for mental health problems. Boost funding for schools.

These are among the ideas that some lawmakers suggest as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gears up to hold roundtables for lawmakers and community leaders to discuss ways to "prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again."

This comes in the wake of the latest school shooting, where at least 10 people were killed and more than a dozen injured Friday when a gunman opened fire inside the Santa Fe High School near Houston.

"It's time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated, ever again in the history of the state of Texas," Abbott said last week.

"We welcome that discussion," said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who heads the Texas House Democratic Caucus. "We've been ready to have that for a long time. We welcome our seat at the table to have serious conversations about solutions to the gun violence epidemic in Texas and across this country."

Abbott said a series of roundtable sessions will begin Tuesday — and continue Wednesday and Thursday this week — at the Texas Capitol. They will include testimony from parents, students, teachers, lawmakers, interest groups, law enforcers and education leaders on how to make Texas schools safer.

Among the attendees at Tuesday's 1:30 p.m. roundtable: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus, Texas DPS director Steve McCraw, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, Dallas school superintendent Michael Hinojosa, Garland school superintendent Ricardo Lopez and more.

Abbott has suggested that officials might consider adding metal detectors on campus, screening social media accounts of students for potentially troubling behavior, even screening students for mental health issues. And he said he wants to hear about other suggestions from parents, students, educators, concerned citizens and Second Amendment supporters.

The Star-Telegram reached out to local lawmakers to find out what they would like to see the Legislature do to protect students at school. Here's a look at what those who responded said:

Tarrant proposals

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she stands ready — as chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee — to make sure there's funding available "to protect our students." She's also working on a proposal to better "identify young people with mental health issues and connect them to treatment."

"The Legislature can better secure our schools, continue strengthening our mental health system and revisit laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals," she said. "However, we need to take a hard look at where we have gone wrong as a society that this keeps happening."

Funding will be key, said Turner, who noted that "gun violence is a public safety and public health crisis."

"Texas leaders can address gun violence right now by passing universal background checks, requiring reporting of stolen guns and instituting a safe gun storage campaign," he said. "Furthermore, our schools — as we have been saying for a long time — are facing a funding crisis and are forced to work with increasingly tight and inadequate budgets.

"We need our schools to have all the funds they need to keep our children safe, like resources for case management and assistance to both children and families, as well as more counselors or social workers in schools."

Several local lawmakers, including state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, passed a law in 2013 that let school districts appoint school marshals, who would work to keep students and campuses safe.

Hancock said he supports Abbott's proposed roundtable talks and hopes local superintendents weigh in on the best ways to protect Texas children.

“These acts of evil present a challenge every level of government will have to tackle together," he said.

State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, last year asked the Texas Legislature to address the issue of mass shootings. She received no response.

"I will assist change legislatively by championing the expansion of proven mental health programs in our schools, increase funding for successful existing mental health programs to expand their reach in our communities as well as addressing our existing background check laws to help prevent people who shouldn't have guns from getting guns," Collier said now.

Most important, she said, Texans and Americans need to work together "to change our culture to reduce the toxic levels of poisonous hate infecting our nation."

North Texas congressional leaders earlier this year offered proposals ranging from metal detectors to steel doors and bulletproof glass.

'Hearts without God'

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, said he and others would like to see criminal background checks on all gun sales, guns kept out of the hands of domestic abusers, the removal of guns from school and college campuses, a prohibition on bump stocks and more.

"Our hearts break for all those affected by the horrific shooting that took place at Santa Fe High School. Nothing we write will diminish the grief and anguish sweeping over this community," he said. "Nothing can remove the fear that students across the nation feel every day as they go to school. No words can reassure parents dropping their children off at school that they won't lose them in what was once regarded as a safe haven.

"It's time for effective action and leadership, not more thoughts and prayers."

Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has said that any answers developed during the roundtable will be the top priority for the Senate when lawmakers go back to work in 2019.

But he stressed that the problem lies within society.

"This is not about guns," he said, also pointing at the video game industry for encouraging violence. "The smart things we can do about background checks and other issues we'll address, and we'll do."

These roundtables come just weeks after Abbott and other elected officials spoke at the NRA annual convention in Dallas.

Abbott's website had included a "Win a Texas-Made Shotgun" contest that since the Santa Fe High School shooting has been changed to "Contest," offering the winner a gift certificate of not more than $250.

"The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away," he said. "The answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

"The problem is not guns; it's hearts without God."

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley