On Uvalde anniversary, Pa. Dem’s bill looks to fortify schools | Thursday Morning Coffee
The legislation is ‘rooted in those painful lessons,’ Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, said
UVALDE, TEXAS – MAY 25: A child crosses under caution tape at Robb Elementary School on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, during the mass shooting, 19 students and 2 adults were killed, with the gunman fatally shot by law enforcement. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
With the nation pausing to remember the first anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this week, a Democratic lawmaker in the state House pleaded the case for his plan to avert a similar tragedy in Pennsylvania.
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, would require school districts to provide local law enforcement with updated building blueprints, smoothing the path for first responders “to act swiftly and effectively during active shooter incidents.”
“Last year, a heartbreaking record was set in the United States – 46 school shootings, four more than in 2021. This growing epidemic affected 43,450 children, shattering the innocence of their school experience,” Conklin said in a statement. “Our country stands alone among affluent nations in its exposure to such high levels of gun violence, a reality we can and must change.”
Nineteen children and two adults were killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. It was the deadliest shooting ever at a Texas public school, the Texas Tribune reported.
Local law enforcement have faced withering criticism for waiting more than an hour to respond to the shooting, with the Washington Post reporting Wednesday that the delay was partly driven by senior officers who still are on the job a year later.
Conklin said Wednesday that his bill is “rooted in those painful lessons,” from the Uvalde tragedy.
“By providing first responders with access to up-to-date, detailed building layouts, we would empower them to better navigate the chaos of these crises and speed lifesaving intervention,” the Democratic lawmaker said.
Conklin said his bill was modeled on a similar effort in New Jersey, where policymakers allocated $6.5 million in federal money to create digital maps of all the state’s public and private schools for law enforcement.
Garden State officials started creating digital blueprints of schools in 2019, completing work on about 1,500 of New Jersey’s public and private schools, NJ.Com reported. The money approved last year will help the state finish the work on the remaining 1,500 institutions, the website reported.
Between 1999 and 2018, “over 187,000 students endured the terror of a school shooting. In just five years, that figure has nearly doubled to 338,000,” Conklin said.
“Our legislation aims to make one of many necessary changes to reverse this alarming trend, ensuring our children can learn and grow in an environment where safety is a guarantee, not a privilege,” Conklin said.
A month after the murders in Uvalde, President Joe Biden signed into law the first major gun safety bill approved by Congress in 30 years, NPR reported in June 2022.
The bill included financial incentives for states to pass ‘red flag laws’ allowing the courts to order the temporary seizure of someone’s weapons if it’s shown they pose a danger to themselves or others.
But even with the law’s passage, the nation’s gun violence has continued unabated. As of the beginning of May, more than 13,900 people nationwide had lost their lives to gun violence so far this year, according to ABC News.
Earlier this week, the majority-Democrat state House passed two bills aimed at preventing gun suicides and requiring universal background checks for rifle and shotgun purchases, the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall and DaniRae Renno reported.
While the legislation’s fate in the Republican-controlled state Senate is far from certain, Democrats hailed the bills — one of them a red flag proposal — as a victory.
State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware, who sponsored the measure, said she “introduced this bill because I lost my dad to gun suicide, and I want to do what I can to ensure no other family has to go through the tragedy that mine went through.
“As a 13-year-old kid, losing my dad to suicide fundamentally changed my life. I hid that story from others for a long time out of shame, because of the persistence of the mental health stigma,” O’Mara continued. “Addressing gun violence and mental health problems head on like this bill does can help ensure that another kid doesn’t have to grow up the way that I did.”
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