Federal Way must act now to prevent school shooting

By Bob Roegner | Opinion
Saturday, May 26, 2018 5:25am

It was only 93 days between Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas. Another school shooting and 10 more people including eight children are dead, and other children are learning life’s most painful lessons while attending funerals instead of proms.

Twenty-two school shootings this year. Has anything changed since Parkland? Has anything changed since Sandy Hook?

Where is the leadership we need? The problem is still the same. Easy access to guns.

One of these days the city on the national news won’t be in Florida or Texas. It will be Federal Way or someplace close by. Our leaders have had more than enough warning.

Now is the time for leadership from our mayor, city council, governor and state legislators. We need our Legislature to change the laws on gun control across the state and send a message it will not happen here. Parkland happened at the end of the last legislative session and it is still seven months until the next one.

State Sen. John Braun (R-District 20) recently urged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session on school safety. Gov. Inslee didn’t jump at the idea because he knows the proposal was intended to score political points, and that despite residents’ unbearable worry about their children, real change is more likely during the regular session in January after the elections.

It’s a calculated gamble that Democrats are likely to control both Houses by more votes then than they do now. A special session now would likely result in stalemate. But raising the issue ensures guns and school safety will be part of the summer political debates.

Our goal as a society should be to ensure the safety of our most treasured asset, our children. If we make our schools the safest in the state, people will want to live here, work here and raise their families here.

But what has happened in the 93 days between Parkland and Santa Fe? Our students led a march from Federal Way High School to a downtown park to demonstrate a bond with Parkland and challenge the community to step up and help stop the violence.

The Federal Way school district reached out to get “active shooter training” from the police department for its schools. Superintendent Tammy Campbell will add four new behavior specialist positions to the four already in place. She will also add two additional security officers.

Mayor Jim Ferrell says he has been supportive of the training program for the school district. Both agencies seem likely to have school safety high on their legislative agendas for next session. But city council members are split on the mayor’s engagement. Some say he has not been as engaged as he should be while others say his engagement has been superficial.

The mayor did start the Violence Prevention Committee, but insiders say that looked more like a political photo opportunity in response to the 2016 murders rather than a serious attempt at stopping violence in our schools. Most of the community improvements were done by other organizations as the committee lacked significant city financial support. Council members do point to the gun safety locks as an improvement that came from the committee.

If we are to avoid our own “shooter on campus” moment, the city needs to engage school leaders in a more cooperative manner. The city needs the school district because that’s where the children who need protection are located most of the time. But the sub-surface political messaging by City Hall the past four years has been to try and shift political blame for violence from the protectors of our safety, city government, to the school district, whose job is to educate students. It was good to see the results of the investigation for the 2016 murders last week and the police detectives deserve credit, but the political undercurrent of finger-pointing stayed the same.

Here in Federal Way we need to have a community meeting and talk about what we are going to do to make sure the next community where children die isn’t ours.

The school district has stepped up. But what do we want the state to do? What do we want the city to do?

Do we want to make it illegal to own any type of assault rifle? Do we want to make it illegal to own magazines that carry more than a few bullets? Should City Hall provide more gun locks and more training? I don’t like metal detectors, but should we talk about them? Do we need changes in school construction? Does City Hall need to provide more city-paid police and add to what the school district currently pays for?

Do we need the state or city to provide financing for more school counselors to be checking on students of concern? Do we need more money to go toward nonprofit social organizations for teen counseling?

We have also learned some lessons about what doesn’t work. We learned that arming teachers is a bad idea when, with no emergency, the gun of a teacher went off and injured three people. We also know that police will tell us that showing up at a school where several people are carrying guns is a recipe for shooting the math teacher rather than the bad guy. More guns isn’t the answer.

But when it comes to the safety of our children, all reasonable ideas should be debated. Much of what the city has done working with other emergency agencies is responsive to an event. Much of what the school district has done is preventative. Prevention should be our goal.

I have written a column about gun violence once a year for at least ten years. Now I’m writing it twice a year. I have encouraged Mayor Jim Ferrell, city council members and state legislators to get serious about the problem before it happens here. Ferrell and some council members have avoided the issue for years and it never came up in last year’s elections. Politicians are afraid of the NRA. To his credit, Ferrell did send a letter of support on SB 6620 last session, which would have aligned requirements for semi-automatic rifles with those of handguns. But it was too late in the session to do any good.

Only council members Mark Koppang, Martin Moore, Lydia Assefa-Dawson, Jesse Johnson and state legislators Kristine Reeves and Mike Pellicciotti – along with legislative candidate and school board member Claire Wilson and Superintendent Tammy Campbell – gave up their Saturday to attend that student march in Federal Way.

The council called a special meeting two years ago when four people were murdered. They even called a special meeting over Tacoma’s methanol plant. But what have they done to make our children safer in the past 93 days?

The school district has made commitments to more staffing. The council discussion that was planned after the march does not appear to have happened, according to council members, and council members want the mayor to show more leadership on the issue.

Message to City Hall and the state: 93 days between Parkland and Santa Fe. The clock is ticking toward the next one, and it’s your responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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