In the aftermath of a school shooting in Maryland where police say an armed school resource officer was instrumental in limiting casualties, members of Congress said Wednesday that expanding the use of those officers is one measure that should be considered as the nation reevaluates school safety.
“It’s a resource that communities need to pay attention to and it will help dissuade people from thinking schools are an easy target,” Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., said. “We need to stop having people think those kinds of environments provide an easy way to express their frustration and violence.”
According to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins opened fire in a hallway at Great Mills High School around 7:50 a.m. Tuesday, wounding two classmates. Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill engaged him within seconds of the initial gunfire. Rollins later died from injuries suffered during the incident.
"He responded exactly how we train our personnel to respond," St. Mary's County Sheriff Tim Cameron told reporters.
The House passed legislation last week that would increase federal spending for school security measures and safety training over the next decade, but it would not provide new funds to arm teachers or other school personnel. It is not yet clear when the Senate will consider the bill, but some lawmakers are already looking ahead to further actions they can take on the issue.
“I’m interested in making sure we get money for armed school resource officers,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, Wednesday. “You probably saw in Maryland yesterday that made a difference.”
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., pointed to the Maryland shooting as an example of what a professional security officer can do with proper training. He added that he still does not support President Donald Trump’s preferred solution of training and arming some teachers.
“That just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “If we want to protect these kids, we should protect them with trained law enforcement personnel.”
Kildee compared the use of armed officers in schools with the way police patrol the rest of the community to keep homes and families safe.
“We have police that protect us in the neighborhoods,” he said. “We ought to do the same thing for these kids.”
Rep. Mitchell suggested schools should be secured like other public spaces already are.
“Our public buildings and courts have better security than our schools do, and schools have more people in them and more people who are vulnerable,” he said.
Mitchell, whose son has worked as a school liaison officer in Michigan, stressed that local communities should implement security measures with which they are most comfortable, and not every school will need or want an armed presence on campus.
“Each community needs to decide whether they’re confident it’s going to provide the safety they want,” he said. “They have to decide if its something they want to invest in.”
According to Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the federal government can provide resources and expertise to help schools harden their defenses and armed officers may be part of that in some cases, but Congress should not tell schools what to do.
“I don’t think that the Congress has a role in dictating the terms of school safety to our states and local communities,” he said.
House members are discussing potentially bipartisan steps that they hope could prevent future shootings, including improved mental health treatment programs, fixing flaws in the gun background check system, and expanding the use of red flag protective orders to keep guns away from people deemed by a court to be dangerous.
“We want to make sure that when kids go to school a) that they learn and b) that they know they’re in safe environment,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
While lawmakers agree on that goal, they are still working toward a consensus on what role the federal government should play in achieving it.
“There isn’t any perfect national answer to this problem,” Mitchell said.