How can SC ensure children, teachers are safe at school? Here’s what state lawmakers said.

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Published: May. 25, 2022 at 8:43 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 9:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The day after an 18-year-old gunman used a semi-automatic rifle to murder 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas, state lawmakers say they are focused on keeping South Carolina schools safe.

“I think this is something that we need to be thinking about constantly,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, said. “We’ve got to stay vigilant to ensure that our children and teachers are safe.”

Massey said the South Carolina General Assembly has been working to heighten safety in schools, citing money allocated in the state budget in recent years to help pay school resource offices in districts that could not otherwise afford them and putting funding toward securing access points in poorer school districts, where construction may have made them more vulnerable to intruders and unauthorized entries.

“The legislature here and the governor have taken pretty aggressive steps over the last several years to ensure the safety of our school buildings. We’ve done it with money. We’ve done it with personnel,” Massey said. “There are probably thing we still need to do, but we’ve taken much more aggressive steps on lots of these things than what you would see in some other states.”

The leader of the Senate Republican Caucus also believes lawmakers need to put more of a focus on mental health, a view shared by House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D – Richland.

Rutherford said they need to address mental health issues to confront the root causes of this problem.

“We’ve got to start investing in kids on the front end, looking at those kids that are showing issues, showing problems, and start talking to them and engaging them, and that’s going to take money and resources,” he said, adding he believes more should be done to work with and empower community programs that aim to curb violence, meeting children and teens where they are.

Rutherford also pointed to a provision in the state budget that would clear barriers for retired law enforcement officers to work as school resource officers.

Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R – Spartanburg, said he would support measures that make it easier for law enforcement and military retirees to volunteer as school resource officers, with training from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

“There are an awful lot of folks who served the country in uniform or served in law enforcement who would be more than happy to go back and protect our kids as a volunteer in their retirement days, and we ought to afford them that chance,” he said.

Kimbrell said he is already working on a bill that would do this, as well as ensure every school has a full-time armed and trained school resource officer and even allow teachers and school administrators with concealed weapons permits to carry on campus.

“This may be controversial for some people, but ultimately, the only thing that stops a crazy madman with a gun who wants to harm our kids is a good person who’s armed and ready to take care of it,” Kimbrell said.

Massey and Rutherford, leaders of their respective caucuses, say the latter is not an idea they plan to get behind.

“I think teachers and administrators already have a tough enough job. Teaching and trying to keep up with the children is all-consuming in itself,” Massey said, saying they would be better off working to guarantee every school has a school resource officer. “I think my preference would be to allow the teachers to teach and allow trained law enforcement officers to handle those issues.”

Rutherford said while such a measure has been proposed in the past, it has not been taken up, in part because of concerns it could add to confusion during a school shooting.

“Arming more people is not always the answer and especially in a school setting — simply too many people, and when you’ve got that many guns, you don’t know who the bad guy is, you don’t know how well trained they are to shoot back. That’s what the police are for, and we have SROs already in our schools,” he said.

The ultimate solution, Rutherford said, can’t be found in funding or a single program alone.

“And it’s not just taking guns away from people,” he said. “That’s not the answer. The answer is somewhere in the middle, of finding that balance between making sure that people are respecting the Second Amendment while also respecting the lives of our children, and I believe that we can do that, but it’s got to be touching our kids. Right now, we’re not doing that.”

State lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session for the year about two weeks ago.

Before they left, they agreed to a resolution that outlines for what reasons they can be called back to Columbia, such as finalizing the budget.

Legislation related to school safety or guns was not included in that agreement, so if any lawmakers intend to introduce bills on these topics, they likely would need to wait until the beginning of next year, when a new session begins, to take them up.

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