To stop senseless violence, 3 actions for lawmakers

The OlympianJune 12, 2014 

Less than two weeks after a 22-year-old man killed six students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, another young man from North Seattle shot and killed one student, and wounded two others at Seattle Pacific University. This is becoming an all-too-common occurrence.

But there are lessons we can learn from this latest senseless tragedy. Congress and the Legislature should put three important actions to improve safety on school and college campuses on their urgent to-do list.

First, state lawmakers should fund proven security systems at all public schools and colleges.

After the horrific 2007 Virginia Tech slaying of 32 students and faculty members, Congress amended the federal campus crime-reporting law to require installation of emergency notification systems at all colleges.

SPU had complied, and moments after the shooting began, campus-wide text messages and emails were sent. Key doors were locked remotely. Clocks everywhere flashed the word “lockdown,” and sounded an alert. The shooter could be seen in real time on closed-circuit cameras.

There’s no doubt the system saved lives, which raises the question why there is no such requirement for Washington’s public K-12 schools. The answer is no surprise: conservative legislators’ aversion to raising new revenue.

Many South Sound school districts have added some security measures, financed by local voters who agreed to tax themselves through bonds and levies. But some districts — Tenino, for example — have had difficulty attaining approval from a supermajority of its voters. That unfairly puts some students at greater risk.

Second, lawmakers should allocate more funds for school-based mental health programs, including the hiring of additional school counselors. To prevent these tragedies, schools need more resources to identify and help troubled teens and 20-somethings before they act out violently.

The state’s congressional delegation can help here, too, by supporting a bill — the Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act — co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott. The bill calls for wide-ranging reforms in mental health care, especially the crisis-response system.

State legislators should also reconsider HB 2725, which permits family members to appeal to Superior Court judges to have close relatives involuntarily committed. Family members know their loved ones best and are the first to notice when they start to lose control. This bill passed the House last year, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Third, it’s time to do something about high-capacity weapons. When the SPU shooter paused to reload his shotgun, a senior engineering student pepper-sprayed the shooter and held him down on the floor until help arrived. That would have been impossible if the shooter had been armed with an assault rifle and almost unlimited killing capacity. In that case, it’s almost certain that more students would have died.

If we don’t act on these lessons, the world will lose more innocent young lives. Voters must rise up this year to support only those legislative candidates committed to making Washington a safer state for school children and college students.

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