Lawmakers in the Lone Star State have passed a sweeping school safety bill to harden schools to prevent future attacks.
The Texas legislature gave final approval on Sunday to a bill that would require armed security on every school campus in the state and boost mental health training for school employees, among other provisions. It reached Governor Greg Abbott’s (R.) desk on Tuesday. His office did not respond to a request for comment, but he is expected to sign the bill into law.
The bill’s passage arrives shortly after the first anniversary of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas. That school shooting, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers, is the deadliest in Texas history and one of the worst in American history.
The police response to the Uvalde shooting drew heavy criticism for the inaction of responding officers. It reignited the political debate over school safety, armed responses to mass shootings, and gun control. The bill reflects Republicans’ preference for providing armed deterrence and better mental health screenings to prevent future attacks, and its passage could serve as a model to other red states searching for politically palatable measures to curb school shootings.
Under House Bill 3, Texas schools would be required to post at least one armed security officer on campus every day during regular school hours. The armed person could be either a peace officer, a school resource officer, a school marshal, or a school district employee who has completed the state’s required school safety training course. Each district school board would determine the number of armed personnel deployed at each campus.
Gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have long called for boosting armed security in schools since the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, said in a press conference responding to that shooting.
The NRA set up a program to counsel schools on how best to provide armed security later that year. However, the group’s School Shield program has languished since then. Internal financial documents published by The Reload last year show the group spent just $13,900 of its $155.8 million budget on the program during the first eight months of 2021.
The group did not respond to a request for comment on the Texas measure.
Gun-control groups, meanwhile, have largely opposed expanding the presence of armed security officers in schools and have instead called for new restrictions on firearms in response to school shootings. In a press release, Everytown for Gun Safety decried the Texas bill as a false solution that amounted to Texas lawmakers “growing their ‘guns everywhere’ agenda.”
“Texan lives have been forever marked by the mass shootings that have scarred our state and while there is a direct path towards a safer Texas, our lawmakers are choosing not to take it,” Liz Hanks, a member of the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action, said.
In addition to mandating armed security in the schools, the bill would require any school district employee who regularly interacts with students to complete “an evidence-based mental health training program” designed to help them respond to students who could threaten school safety. It also creates a new government office of school safety and security overseen by the Governor that would be tasked with establishing physical security standards for building access and active shooter protocols that local districts must follow.
If signed, the bill would take effect on September 1, 2023.