House passes STOP School Violence Act

PHOTO: Students rally in front of the White House in Washington, March 14, 2018.PlayCarolyn Kaster/AP
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As tens of thousands of students walked out of their schools to demand action to prevent gun violence on Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the first gun-related measure since the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting last month.

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In a bipartisan vote of 407-10, lawmakers approved the STOP School Violence Act, which provides federal grants intended to make schools safer. Five Democrats and five Republicans voted against the measure.

The bill authorizes $50 million per year for grants administered by the Department of Justice to fund training and other initiatives intended to enhance school safety, and $25 million annually for physical improvements such as metal detectors, stronger locks, and emergency notification and response technologies for schools to notify law enforcement of emergencies.

Lawmakers said consideration of the bill, formally titled ‘The Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018,’ was in direct response to the Parkland shooting.

The bill now heads to the Senate for possible consideration.

Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., a former sheriff and a lead sponsor of the bill, said the measure “focuses on strengthening a very important layer” to school security.

“There is still much work to be done, but the best way to keep our students and teachers safe is to give them the tools and the training to recognize the warning signs to prevent violence from ever entering our school grounds,” Rutherford said. “And this bill aims to do just that.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump “applauds” the House for sending the bill to the Senate, calling the measure an “important step towards keeping American students safe.”

“It is critical that we strengthen our laws in order to aid our law enforcement, address the needs of individuals struggling with serious mental illness, and develop proactive strategies for identifying and preventing violence in schools,” Sanders stated. “This Administration is pleased with the progress we have made toward securing our schools over the last few weeks alone, and looks forward to working with the Senate to protect America’s students.”

Despite the widespread bipartisan vote, Democrats urged Republicans to vote on additional measures to prevent gun violence, such as universal background checks.

“Today young people across the country are taking a stand and calling upon this Congress to do something about the scourge of gun violence that has terrorized our schools and our streets for too long. This bill fails to do so and it should not – it cannot – be our only response to their demands,” Nadler, D-N.Y., said. “We must make schools safer, but the best way to do that is to do more to prevent gun violence from occurring in the first place. Congress must do more to stop gun violence. It is not enough to say that staff and students must do more to protect themselves.”

The grants are also available for “training to prevent student violence against others and self, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students.” The bill does not, however, provide funding to arm teachers with firearms, though Democrats complained that the legislative text does not explicitly prohibit arming teachers.

“Because President Trump and others in his Administration have indicated that they believe arming teachers is part of the solution to this problem, it was important to my colleagues and me that we be assured that this program, at least, will not be used for such a purpose which would actually endanger students, not make them safer,” Nadler said.

The bill would also allow for the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines, and internet websites. Nadler, who voted in favor of the bill, further warned the legislation lacks due process protections for students against whom a report is made.

The House passed legislation on Dec. 6 – the Conceal Carry Reciprocity Act, which reformed the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and allowed gun owners with concealed carry permits from one state to carry them in another. The measure also contained another provision requiring a DOJ report to Congress on bump stocks.

The Senate, however, is working to advance alternative legislation dealing only with background checks.

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