Attorney General Derek Schmidt recommended the state respond to school gun violence by placing more law enforcement officers and mental health professionals in schools. He also wants to increase grants to school districts for security projects and draw upon federal COVID-19 funding to expand budgets for security priorities. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Attorney General Derek Schmidt responded to murder of 21 people in a Texas school’s fourth-grade classrooms with a package of ideas for enhancing school safety and moderating firearm violence that the Republican candidate for Kansas governor expects to gain bipartisan support.
Schmidt, who is seeking the GOP nomination in August, said his plan included $10 million annually in state grants to K-12 schools for building security. He would seek permission to apply federal COVID-19 pandemic funding to school-safety projects.
He proposed deployment of more armed law enforcement officers and addition of more mental health counselors or intervention specialists for schools. Students and teachers should be better informed about a program that encourages reporting suspicious activity or threats, he said.
The attorney general said he would reintroduce during the 2023 legislative session a bill requiring convicted felons illegally in possession of firearms while committing new violent felonies to be sentenced for the weapons charge concurrently with penalties for the underlying crime. He submitted the same bill in February to the Legislature, but the House and Senate didn’t adopt the measure.
“Kansas kids deserve to feel safe in our communities and especially in our schools,” said Schmidt, who praised the GOP-led Legislature for its work on school safety issues. “We need leadership to keep us moving forward.”
His proposal didn’t include reforms under discussion by members of Congress in Washington, D.C., including universal background checks, a minimum age of 21 to buy an AR-15, a waiting period to purchase an AR-15 and red-flag laws enabling a state court to order temporary removal of firearms from a person thought to be a danger to others or themselves.
Lauren Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for Kelly’s campaign, said Wednesday the governor “has always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and believes Kansans have the right to purchase firearms to keep their families safe and to hunt.”
“However, like most gun owners, Governor Kelly recognizes the need to balance this with the safety of our children,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said Kelly’s record of investing in school safety by increasing pay for law enforcement officers and by fully funding public schools were among reasons more than 125 Kansas educators across the state endorsed her reelection. Kelly also has support the red-flag laws allowing the courts to temporarily hold weapons for people in crisis.
“Governor Kelly will continue to ensure our schools have the resources they need and push the Legislature to send her bipartisan, common-sense gun legislation that keeps our kids safe in schools,” Fitzgerald said.
The issue of gun violence in U.S. schools returned to the national spotlight in May when an 18-year-old used an AR-15-style rifle to fatally shoot two teachers and 19 students in adjoining classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
It was the third-deadliest school shooting in the United States, surpassed by the Virginia Tech University massacre in 2007 and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012. A Virginia Tech student killed 32 people in Blacksburg, Virginia. In Newtown, Connecticut, a lone gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook.
In March, Olathe East High School was the scene of a shooting in which a uniformed school resource officer and an assistant school principal were wounded along with the student shooter. All survived and the 18-year-old was charged with one court of attempted capital murder.
Schmidt, in a campaign policy statement about gun violence in schools, said the Olathe East incident demonstrated the value of having well-trained officers in schools. He said he anticipated his proposals could be enacted by state lawmakers in 2023.
“This plan helps more schools have a school resource officer and a mental health intervention team to protect students, provides funds to assist local school districts in securing facilities, improves our ability to discover threats before they are carried out and strengthens penalties for gun crimes committed by repeat violent felons,” Schmidt said. “It’s an overall approach that should garner a bipartisan consensus.”
Schmidt said he would recommend the state appropriate $10 million to finance security upgrades and to hire school resource officers. The Legislature and Kelly approved $7.5 million to expand funding of mental health personnel to 43 school districts in 2022 and $10.5 million to add 15 to 25 more districts in 2023. The attorney general said the state should continue broadening that financial support statewide.
In addition, Schmidt said the state should request help from the Kansas congressional delegation to secure permission from the federal government to divert unused COVID-19 pandemic funding to school security priorities.
The state could build on a collaboration between the KBI the state Board of Education to gather criminal intelligence related to threats in private and public schools, Schmidt said. Existence of the program should be more widely known so students, teachers, parents and others are more included to participate, he said.
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