Bud Kennedy

'We can do a lot to help kids.' After Santa Fe, Texas talks mental health over guns

650 students at Southlake Carroll schools staged a walkout protest against gun violence

Students from Carroll Senior High School, Carroll High School, Dawson Middle and Carroll Middle recently participated in the protests to call attention to school safety. The student-led protest, which began about 10 a.m., lasted for 17 minutes to
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Students from Carroll Senior High School, Carroll High School, Dawson Middle and Carroll Middle recently participated in the protests to call attention to school safety. The student-led protest, which began about 10 a.m., lasted for 17 minutes to

Some school safety changes are obvious:

Have students tuck in shirttails, so they can't hide a weapon.

Use different alarm sounds for evacuating the school than for taking cover or a lockdown.

Train campus police to protect schools and identify threats, not to write kids tickets for cussing or shoving.

Put somebody — not necessarily a deputy with a metal detector, just somebody — at the door to peek inside small bags, purses and coats.

It shouldn't be tougher to get into the symphony than to walk into a school, but it is.

We always thought schools were safe.

They're no safer than our streets, our homes or our churches.

"We want to strengthen our schools, and a lot goes into that," said state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), a former Fort Worth police officer and one of three Texas House members at Gov. Greg Abbott's roundtable discussion May 22.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Gov. Gregg Abbott held roundtable discussions last week in Austin and this week unveiled a school safety plan. Ana Ramirez Austin American-Statesman

Abbott published his 40-page School and Firearm Safety Action Plan Wednesday, an intriguing mix of increased mental health services and crisis counseling (badly needed in Texas), more armed and trained faculty "marshals" and better gun safety laws.

He went out of his way to define a precise position supporting both gun rights and gun safety: "I can assure you I will never allow Second Amendment rights to be infringed, but I will always promote responsible gun ownership."

"I think it boils down to two things: securing our schools, and the early identification of these kids," said King, a decision-maker on policy as chairman of the Homeland Security and Public Safety committee.

Several state programs, one through the Texas Tech medical school, can be expanded to help with screening troubled teenagers.

Phil King
State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, will run for Texas House speaker. Phil King Courtesy

"The goal is to identify kids and get them to the right kind of help, not only to prevent tragedy but also to help those kids," King said.

The leader of the program is Billy Philips of Texas Tech, who moved to Lubbock from Santa Fe. He lived only a mile from the high school where a student is accused in the May 18 shooting that killed 10 and injured 13.

"The idea of the program is to find kids that need help," he said in a Houston public radio interview. Since 2014, about 200 students have been screened via computer and 25 were recommended for removal from school, he said.

Abbott also proposed a few law changes to keep guns out of unsafe hands.

Not surprisingly, the leaders of Open Carry Texas, Lone Star Gun Rights, Texas Gun Rights and Texas Firearms Freedom attacked parts of the plan Thursday as "a real-world version of [George] Orwell's '1984' " that violates due process, privacy and liberty.

Those are the groups aligned with the Freedom Caucus in the Texas Legislature.

(In Texas, the National Rifle Association is bashed as too moderate.)

"I think we can do a lot to help kids and harden our school security," King said.

As for new gun laws?

"Nobody's suggested any gun laws to me that would prevent this type of attack," he said.

A better mental health system is a good start.

Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538; @BudKennedy

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