Gov. Mike DeWine laid out a plan Friday to prevent school shootings in Ohio following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school.
Much of DeWine’s plan focuses on increasing school security and identifying mental health issues in potential shooters.
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The Republican governor, who has been criticized by gun control advocates for signing laws loosening gun restrictions, said he believes these next steps will make a paramount difference.
“What we saw this week is just the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking thing that I can imagine as a parent or grandparent or just as a human being,” DeWine said on the Uvalde shooting. “We’ve made great progress and have more to do. We have a moral obligation to do it.”
What are Mike DeWine’s next steps?
DeWine directed his administration to purchase training for all teachers in the state to help identify students with behavioral health problems who need help. This comes after he talked with the newly selected Ohio Superintendent of Public Education Steve Dackin.
The governor is asking all schools to re-evaluate wellness dollars they’ve received from the state and to spend them on mental health. Ohio has invested at least $675 million in student wellness and success, per the state department of education.
The Ohio School Safety Center, established by DeWine, will also be directed to “significantly expand” its number of school liaisons to help prepare and promote best practices for school safety. More figures will be provided, DeWine said.
The governor wants to have every school building in Ohio equipped with state-of-the-art safety infrastructure, and acknowledged that “it is not going to be cheap,” he said, given there are 5,300 public schools buildings in Ohio.
He also highlighted the importance of expanding the mental health workforce, noting that recently, his administration allocated $85 million toward that goal, such as helping pay for internships for students.
DeWine also emphasized the Ohio School Safety Center Tip Line for anybody to report suspicious behavior. One can call or text to 1-844-SaferOH (844-723-3764).
Ohio legislation Mike DeWine is supporting
DeWine on Friday highlighted some bills he hopes to see passed by Ohio’s GOP state legislature dealing with school safety.
One of them is House Bill 383 which would increase penalties for certain gun offenses. The governor said that would help reduce repeat violent offenders.
DeWine wants legislation to arm school staff subject to local control. Details on what training would be required needs to be worked out but could include trauma, first aid and de-escalation, he said.
DeWine also called on lawmakers to pass a requirement that outstanding warrants for serious offenses be reported to the national database for background checks. The DeWine administration has been doing work on that already, having put 220,000 warrants into the national system this year, an increase above the 18,000 warrants in 2019.
He also maintained support of strengthening protection orders to keep guns away from people who are deemed a threat to others or themselves.
However, past efforts by DeWine to push gun control-related measures have made little progress and faced opposition by Republican lawmakers who control the Ohio House and Senate. DeWine said he remains optimistic this time around.
Calls to ‘Do something’ after Uvalde, Texas school shooting
The Texas school shooting has reignited debates about gun control measures across the nation. In Ohio, attention has refocused on DeWine’s response to the 2019 Dayton mass shooting. The night after the shooting, DeWine promised action after a crowd chanted at him to “do something” after a gunman killed nine people in the city’s Oregon District.
DeWine had unveiled a set of proposals, such as a “pink slip” law letting authorities send certain people to a psychiatric hospital, where there’s no legal access to guns. He wanted to increase penalties for certain gun crimes as well.
But he walked back on pushing a mandatory background check system and red-flag laws, where one can ask a judge to order guns to be taken away from people deemed a threat.
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Such proposals have gained little to no traction in the GOP legislature. Recently, legislative leaders have indicated they prefer alternative approaches, such as arming teachers or focusing on mental health issues.
Gun control advocates have criticized the governor for instead signing laws loosening gun restrictions, including one that eliminates training and background checks for concealed carry permits. They’ve asked for laws to target access to guns by the wrong people.
DeWine insisted Friday that despite the political barriers, his administration was working on improving school safety.
“What I have to do as a leader is to try to get things done where it’s possible to get them done,” DeWine said. “Instead of spending time on something I can’t get done, I’m going to spend time on something I can get done.”
Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.