Republican state Sen. Scott Martin, of Martic Township, is a prime sponsor of Senate Bill 1142, which would establish a state program enabling students, parents and school staff to anonymously report violent activities and potential threats. As LNP’s Sam Janesch reported Wednesday, the Safe2Say program would allow anyone to submit a tip by phone or online directly to the state attorney general’s office. That office would coordinate with local — and if necessary, federal — law enforcement to investigate. The bill’s Democratic supporters include state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Safe2Say is modeled after a program in Colorado that received 9,163 reports in the 2016-17 school year.
It’s a start, and we welcome it.
Making it easier to report worrying behavior or social media posts or overheard conversations — and to a source that will take such reports seriously — strikes us as common sense.
Too often in the aftermath of school shootings, we read that people had worried about the behavior of the culprit but either hadn’t reported it, or there was no follow-up after they did.
As Sen. Martin said at a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol: “In the hours and the days and the weeks after any of these tragedies, information comes to light — things that were missed, signs that were shown, Facebook pages making various types of threats or pictures of weapons or explosives. All too often we ask ourselves, ‘Why was this missed?’ ”
Shapiro asked, “How many times have we heard people say, ‘If you see something, say something’ ?”
He also asked: “How many times have we said, ‘Boy, if only someone had lifted up their voice and shared this important information with us, we could’ve done something about it?’ ”
State Sen. Pat Browne, a Lehigh Valley Republican and another of the bill’s prime sponsors, said that, as the legislation is written now, it would provide about $1 million for a 13-person staff in the attorney general’s office to field tips 24/7.
This seems to be a bargain in the face of the incalculable loss that comes with a school shooting.
This bill deserves the full support of the state Senate and of the House of Representatives. And though we truly try not to be cynical — because the stakes here are infinitely higher than in politics — it should be an easy sell in this election year (even in the House, where nothing comes easily).
According to Janesch’s report, the bill was scheduled for a vote Tuesday in the state Senate but was rescheduled for early June. Wrote Janesch: “Advocates hope it will be approved by both chambers and the governor by the end of June — setting it up for a potential launch by the end of the summer, Martin said.”
We hope this happens.
And we’re heartened that the General Assembly is acting with some urgency to improve school safety.
The massacres at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14 and at Santa Fe High School in Texas just a week ago today should weigh heavily on all of our hearts and minds.
But the Safe2Say program, however worthwhile, cannot be the only prudent school safety measure that comes out of this legislative session.
We know that lawmakers are facing a bit of a time crunch, with the summer recess and election season looming. We’d just ask them to imagine the stress felt by students, who live with the daily reality of lockdown drills and school shooting fears.
Those students deserve a substantive and fully thought-out response from lawmakers.
Measures such as raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 for gun purchases, as Florida wisely did in March, may be out of reach in Pennsylvania this year. But lawmakers need to signal — in meaningful ways — that they’re heeding students’ concerns.
Janesch reported that dozens of school safety bills are circulating in Harrisburg. Adding armed security guards and metal detectors in schools, increasing funding for safety measures and establishing frequent mental health screenings are all under consideration, and deservedly so.
But we would caution lawmakers against wasting what little time they have in session on measures such as Senate Bill 383, which would allow school districts to arm teachers and staff.
We called this a terrible idea when we wrote about it in February, and we still believe it’s a terrible idea. As we noted then, “We do not want our teachers, however gun-adept they are in their off time, to have to pull the trigger and kill a rogue and violent student. ... Killing a shooter would change a teacher forever — and change how that teacher is perceived by his or her students.”
And while we know this may be a pipe dream, particularly in this election year, we continue to urge lawmakers to act courageously to enact sensible gun regulation. They could start with a measure that’s widely popular: universal background checks.
Last June, Quinnipiac University pollsters asked American voters if they supported or opposed “requiring background checks for all gun buyers.” Ninety-four percent — that’s just six percentage points shy of 100 — said they were in favor. And that survey was not an outlier.
A Franklin & Marshall College poll in March showed that 86 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania strongly favor enhancing the gun background check system. Indeed, 86 percent of gun owners favor enhanced background checks.
It confounds us that so basic and mainstream a measure cannot get through the Pennsylvania Legislature.
Even in an election year.
Actually, given its popularity, make that especially in an election year.