In the weeks following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there have been at least 21 threats made against Minnesota schools, according to Gov. Mark Dayton’s office. Dayton called these threats and the Parkland shooting a “grim warning” to lawmakers in Minnesota.
In response to the recent violence, Dayton proposed a Safe and Secure Schools Act at a March 7 press conference. The act is intended to protect kids and reduce gun violence. In the same conference, Dayton also urged legislators to work together to pass gun control legislation.
During his press conference, Dayton pointed out that gun control doesn’t share the same partisan support that school safety does. Dayton explained that he wants the two pieces of legislation to be introduced separately, so gun control doesn’t get in the way of school safety.
“[Republican legislators] don’t even want to talk about [gun control], much less act on it,” said Dayton. “It’s really shameful, but it’s a reality.”
The Safe and Secure Schools Act would include $15.9 million in school funding, an increase of $18 per student, as well as an additional $5 million for mental health services. The money would come from the projected $329 million surplus for the remainder of the state’s budget cycle.
The $15.9 million would be spread across all school districts in Minneapolis, while the $5 million for mental health would be distributed on an application basis.
Eva Goldfarb, a junior at St. Louis Park High School, spoke at the press conference with Dayton. Goldfarb is among hundreds of teens from across Minnesota who have voiced their support for safer schools and sensible gun control legislation.
“This movement we have created is one of determination and passion but also of frustration,” Goldfarb said. “It’s been heartbreaking seeing that hard work wasted in the hands of adults.”
The act would include intervention and support for expelled students, new resources for school building safety, like bulletproof glass and secured entrances, and would provide students with more access to mental health services.
Dayton noted, “I’m willing to try anything” to keep our students safe.
Not listed in the act was a stance on arming school teachers. Dayton pointed out that principals in Minnesota already have discretion over allowing teachers and other staff to bring firearms into schools. When asked if he would sign a bill regarding arming teachers, he said, “I’m not going to comment on hypothetical legislation.” But, he did note that having guns in schools is not conducive to learning or feeling safe.
“We don’t feel safe as it is, and [arming teachers] would only exacerbate our fears,” Goldfarb said.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told MSR, “Arming teachers is opposed by students, it’s opposed by police officers, it’s opposed by anybody that’s thought about it for half of a second.”
Jason Matlock, director of operational and security services for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), told MSR the focus shouldn’t be on arming teachers, bulletproof glass or banning assault weapons, but rather on relationships. “For a majority of the school shootings, there were opportunities where relationships could have derailed the situation,” he said.
Matlock recognized there is a delicate balance between a school being as safe as possible and also welcoming. “It does feel insane to have to steel-coat our buildings,” he said. “But from a security standpoint, there is some logic to these things.”
Frey called all of the talk about hardening schools ridiculous. “Bulletproof glass doesn’t do a whole lot of good if the guns [are] already in the school,” he said.
After talking about the Safe and Secure Schools Act, Dayton provided a list of gun control legislation he would support. It included things like expanding criminal background checks and raising the legal age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21.
Dayton also came out in support of a “red flag” law that would let family members and law enforcement ask a judge to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if they’re concerned the person poses a threat.
One thing Dayton did not come out in support of was a statewide ban on the sale of assault weapons, something that has been a hot topic of legislation at all levels of government and is supported by local governmental officials in Minneapolis.
Hundreds of Minneapolis high school students walked out of class on February 21 and marched to city hall on behalf of stricter gun laws. In response to the student’s demands, the Minneapolis City Council added a resolution to its legislative agenda encouraging state and federal lawmakers to ban assault weapons, silencers, bump stocks and extended magazines.
“We’re not talking about your father’s hunting rifle here. We’re talking about guns that were designed and manufactured to take the lives of people,” Frey said in support of a statewide ban on the sale of assault rifles.
Councilmember Steve Fletcher, who co-authored the resolution with Councilmember Jeremy Schroeder, said the high schoolers’ actions were very effective. Fletcher told MSR, “If more politicians had to look a group of students in the eye like we had in Minneapolis, I think it would be much harder to continue defending the right to own assault weapons.”
The momentum around gun control right now is coming from the students, said Frey, and he wants to amplify their voice. “It’s going to take a grassroots push to make it happen,” he said.
Although at press time MPS didn’t have an official stance on banning assault weapons, Matlock pointed out it doesn’t take an assault weapon to kill someone. “The weapon of choice isn’t as important as what we’re doing to make sure that we reach those kids,” he said. “If they pass the ban, they pass the ban; we still need to have things in place to keep our children safe.”
Both Matlock and Frey have met with students from MPS, and the students have expressed a pretty singular accord: They don’t feel safe at school, and going forward that needs to change.
Keith Schubert welcomes reader responses to email@example.com and to follow him on twitter @keithsch94.