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Opinion | Michigan doesn’t need another school safety commission. It needs action

I represent teachers on the Michigan School Safety Commission (though I do not speak for it). When I heard about the newly formed House School Safety Task Force at the commission’s January meeting, I thought, “Odd, since this commission already exists.” Still, the more folks working on the issue of school gun violence, the better, I figured.

Justine Galbraith
Justine Galbraith teaches 8th grade in Troy and was appointed to the School Safety Commission in 2020 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Courtesy photo)

How optimistic of me.

The School Safety Commission was established by Gov. Rick Snyder after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. Its members are appointed by the governor and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders. We are police officers, public, private, and charter school leaders, mental health professionals, and teachers. The commission was created to advise the Office of School Safety, a department of the Michigan State Police, and help school districts protect against and prevent school violence.

The House School Safety Task Force was created after the Oxford shooting and comprises four Democratic House members and four Republican members. It takes suggestions from the public and intends to draft bills based on its work.

On March 24th, the task force released its first progress report. I am sure the members’ intentions are good, but as a mother of school-age children, a middle school teacher, and a gun violence prevention activist, my response was rage.

The task force was created to prevent future school shootings, yet it recommends nothing when it comes to firearm safety.

NOTHING.

How do we address shootings without addressing guns?

That glaring omission aside, almost all of its recommendations merely duplicate the work the School Safety Commission has done over the past four years: Funding school safety positions and mental health. Increased counselors. Threat assessments. Lockdown kits. Active shooter drill requirements. None of these ideas are novel.

According to Bridge Michigan and Chalkbeat Detroit, Task Force member Rep. Scott VanSingel asked, “Why were these recommendations not acted upon?”

I’d like to suggest that Rep. VanSingel’s question be directed back at the task force and its colleagues in the Michigan House and Senate.

Perhaps there’s been little action because all of these recommendations require funding, and mental health and schools in Michigan have been chronically underfunded for decades. Perhaps it’s because the School Safety Commission has the authority to make recommendations, not mandates, and when our recommendations require legislative action, we must wait months until the parties stop arguing over budgets.

Perhaps school gun violence persists because the majority in the Michigan Legislature has avoided even discussing the most popular, moderate, and reasonable of gun safety measures.

Michigan has no law requiring the secure storage of guns. Safe firearm storage bills have been introduced in the legislature repeatedly in the past several years, including most recently with House Bills 5066-5069 and Senate Bills 550-553. If gun owners were required to securely store their firearms (and knew they face legal penalties if they do not), perhaps fewer firearms would fall into the hands of unstable teenagers, as we saw in Oxford.

Michigan has no “red flag” law, either.  Also known as an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), such a law would empower law enforcement to temporarily (and with due process) remove firearms from people in crisis. An ERPO bill, SB 0856, has been re-introduced after being proposed several times in recent years. It has yet to receive a hearing, even though Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has promised one. If law enforcement had the authority to temporarily remove firearms from at-risk people, perhaps police could better prevent shootings rather than simply respond to them.

So much could have already been done, it’s true. But it’s also true that plenty of folks are already doing quite a bit: The School Safety Commission and Office of School Safety have worked diligently in their capacities to make Michigan students safer. School districts have spent millions of dollars “hardening” their buildings to prevent the next shooting. American parents – Oxford parents – have mourned their children, shot to death at school.  Children and teachers have been traumatized by active shooter drills. Entire school communities live with the daily awareness that, like the weather, school gun violence could inevitably rain down at any moment.

Plenty has been done. Just not by the Michigan legislature.

Apparently, legislators are paying attention now.

Michigan lawmakers must fund mental health. They must fund schools. And finally, finally, they must pass meaningful gun safety legislation

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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