SALT LAKE CITY -- A rapid response to a student in crisis, mandated mental health reporting and emergency restraining orders taking weapons from severely mentally ill people are top priorities for the state to ensure school safety, according to a new report.
The Utah Safe Schools Commission made a series of recommendations on Wednesday that could become new laws as the Utah State Legislature finds ways to protect children from gun violence.
The task force, convened in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., was comprised of educators, advocates, activists and even a representative of the gun lobby.
"It caught the whole nation’s attention, as well it should have, and caused everyone to stop and think," said Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful. "Are we as an individual, as a parent, as a legislature, as a community, as a state doing everything we can to keep our students safe?"
The recommendations presented Wednesday came after months of discussions. The report, released to FOX 13 ahead of a news conference, broke down the recommendations into three tiers based on universal agreement and then some disagreement.
The top priorities include:
- Quick availability of mental health professionals to respond to a report of a student in crisis.
- Mandated mental health reporting in criminal background checks.
- Extreme risk restraining orders that allow people to petition the courts to remove weapons if someone is severely mentally ill and at risk of harming themselves and others.
The extreme risk restraining order is a resurrected bill by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton.
"There's no single solution to prevent mass killings," Rep. Handy told the Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Interim Committee. "But perhaps these red flag laws... could turn the tide."
Watch the commission's news conference here:
The proposed legislation has already drawn heated pushback from gun rights groups, some of whom testified against it on Wednesday. Committee Chairman Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, signaled that he was willing to let the bill be debated in the interim leading up to the 2019 legislative session.
The second tier of recommendations include:
- An emergency alert app that teachers can use to report a dangerous situation.
- Trauma informed practices, that include more mental health counselors in schools.
- A bill to make it a misdemeanor to not properly store a gun that leads to a child getting access to it.
- Waiting periods to obtain firearms.
- Universal background checks in gun purchases.
Rep. Ward acknowledged the waiting periods and the universal background checks had members of the commission who "actively opposed" it. House Speaker Greg Hughes would not say if he supported those measures, but said it was worth debating in the Utah State Legislature.
"If we were at a place where we had an app, that consumers could use it reasonably, and we wanted to look at making sure it was part of the process I would definitely think that’s worthy of our serious consideration," he said of universal background checks and waiting periods.
The third tier of recommendations include:
- Lockdown drills in schools.
- Controlled campus access.
- "Hope squads" that focus on suicide prevention.
Some of the recommendations do not need legislative approval to be implemented. Others require a bill or funding.
"Change needs to happen so I hope the legislators understand this is a serious problem when it comes to school safety, when it comes to general safety of our community," said Daud Mumin, a student who is also a part of the March for Our Lives movement.
Students who are a part of March for Our Lives said they largely supported the recommendations in the report. But they wanted to ensure the legislature actually did something.
"I want to make sure that what we’re looking for is actually being passed and what they’re saying is being passed and they’re putting laws where their mouths are," Mumin added.
Gun rights activists, who brought their own camera crews to the commission's news conference, complained that some of their ideas were largely ignored by the group. Randall Doyle of the Utah Shooting Sports Council said he wanted to see some discussion of making schools a "hardened target."
"The governor has armed protection all the time," he said. "Banks, jewelry stores, we know how they’re treated. We don’t give the same protection to schools."
Both sides of the gun violence issue said they would be watching what the legislature does next.
"We understand there’s a tremendous amount of passion around the issue right now. But along with the passion, there needs to be reason and evidence," Doyle said.
Read the report here: