GOP pitches hardening schools as Uvalde security failures emerge
Republicans and gun rights advocates are calling for measures to boost school security in response to this week’s massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a rebuttal to those seeking to restrict firearm purchases and possession.
But the calls to toughen security come as Texas officials and media reports reveal that some of the security measures Republicans are calling for were already in place at the Uvalde elementary school — and failed.
“When 9/11 happened, we didn’t ban planes. We secured the cockpits,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a staunch gun rights advocate who owned a restaurant where servers open-carried firearms, said on Fox News on Thursday when talking about school security.
At the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual conference on Friday, former President Trump ran through a number of the top GOP suggestions to “finally harden our schools and protect our children.”
The proposals included a single point of entry, strong exterior fencing, metal detectors, locked doors and armed security.
“What we need now is a top-to-bottom security overhaul at schools all across our country,” Trump said.
At the same meeting, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pointed to a grant program proposal in a measure that Democrats blocked in 2013. Another bill of his would allow grant funding to be used on school security measures such as bullet-resistant doors and windows, school safety officers, and security technology.
“Had Uvalde gotten a grant to upgrade the school security, they might have made changes that could have stopped the shooter and killed him at the single point of entrance with our law enforcement there on the ground before he hurt any of these innocent kids and teachers,” Cruz said.
Uvalde did get a grant, though, two years before the massacre.
According to The Texas Tribune, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District in January 2020 received a $69,000 grant from a state program aimed at boosting physical security in schools, though it is unclear how the money was spent.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) earlier in the week touted the 2019 state law that authorized the school security and safety grants, intended to fund projects such as reducing school entrances and providing school security.
According to a Uvalde school district safety plan posted online, first reported by NBC News, perimeter fencing at Robb Elementary was “designed to limit and/or restrict access to individuals without a need to be on the campus.”
Federal programs aimed at boosting school security are also already in place.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Fox Business on Thursday brought up the Student, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act, which was signed into law in March 2018.
More than $125 million in grants to schools were announced by the Department of Justice under the program last year. McCarthy also suggested that “billions” of dollars of COVID-19 funding for schools should be allowed to be used for boosting school security.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Wednesday sought unanimous consent to pass his bill that would codify and preserve a federal “clearinghouse” of school safety best practices.
The resource, found at SchoolSafety.gov, was also in place before Tuesday’s shooting — created by the Homeland Security, Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services departments after the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Johnson’s bill is named after Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter, who were killed in the Parkland shooting.
“All this bill does now is codify it to make sure this clearinghouse stands the test of time, that it will always be there to provide the best practices on school safety,” Johnson said on the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked the bill’s passage, saying that senators may consider it as an amendment to a domestic terrorism prevention bill if Republicans allow it to move forward. (Republicans on Thursday blocked that bill from advancing.)
“Hardening schools would have done nothing to prevent this shooting. In fact, there were guards and police officers already at the school yesterday when the shooter showed up,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s information was based on inaccurate early reports from Texas officials, though there was a school resource officer assigned to the school.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said Friday that the school resource officer assigned to the school was not on campus at the time the shooter showed up. When he returned to campus to respond to a 911 call, he drove past the shooter, who was crouched behind a vehicle.
The shooter in Uvalde bought two assault-style weapons just after his 18th birthday. He brought 48 magazines with him, accounting for 1,687 rounds of ammunition.
McCraw said it is believed that the shooter walked through a door propped open by a teacher.
The NRA put the focus on school safety in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took place in 2012. The incident left 20 children and six adults dead.
In a 2019 legal filing, an advertising firm that used to work with the NRA accused the group of using the school safety initiative as little more than a fundraising gimmick. The NRA disputed the claim, and the parties later settled the related lawsuit.
A decade later, calls to boost school security remain.
“We need to protect our schools because our children deserve at least and in fact more protection than our banks, stadiums and government buildings,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said at the group’s convention in Houston on Friday. He also called for funding for school security resource officers.
There is some disagreement in the GOP about what kind of security measures should be in place and encouraged by the federal government.
“The killer entered here the same way the killer entered in Santa Fe: through a back door, an unlocked back door,” Cruz told reporters in Texas on Wednesday, referencing the May 2018 shooting at a high school outside Texas that left 10 dead. He suggested “not having unlocked doors to classroom, having one door that goes in and out of the school, having armed police officers at that one door.”
But Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), a former law enforcement officer who was a member of a SWAT team, said some GOP suggestions about school security, such as calling for heavy fencing, are going too far.
“We don’t want our kids to go into school in a prison,” Higgins told The Hill. “A school should be an environment that encourages free thought and creativity. Look what happened to our kids — you know, the psychological studies are coming out now — what happened to our kids wearing masks for a year and a half.”
Higgins reintroduced two bills that center on school safety on Thursday. His School Resource Officer Assessment Act, which previously passed the House in 2018, directs the attorney general and education secretary to gather data on the number of school resource officers across the country. And Higgins’s School Watch and Tactics Act would direct the attorney general and education secretary to develop best practices for school resource officers and their education.
A larger challenge, Higgins said, is developing cohesive plans across layers of law enforcement to respond to the shooting.
“Your school resource officers across the country very rarely have the skill set to be a SWAT cop. Very rarely. That’s just reality,” Higgins said.
On Friday, McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said that law enforcement did not adequately respond to the active shooter situation.
A police commander in Uvalde made the “wrong decision” when he waited more than an hour to breach the classrooms that the shooter entered. Emergency calls from children revealed that students were alive and trapped in the adjoining classrooms with the shooter begging for help.
The commander did not engage the shooter sooner, McCraw said, because he believed the shooter was barricaded and that no more children were at risk.