School safety bill contains gun control provisions

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OLYMPIA — Filled to the brim with a hodgepodge of provisions and regulations, the legislature’s fast-tracked school safety bill will affect everything from the availability of school resource officers to the ability of anyone under 21 years old to buy a semi-automatic rifle.

Responding both to national uproar in the wake of the recent Florida high school shooting that killed 17, as well as the death last year of one student after a peer opened fire in Washington’s Freeman High School, the school safety bill is aimed at stopping school shootings in the state.

One provision in the bill would direct the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to create an emergency response and notification system that would expedite the arrival of law enforcement when there is an emergency at a school and would send notifications to other schools in an area if there is any danger.

Another provision, called Students Protecting Students, takes its lead from a bill of the same name sponsored by Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, that would work to create a mobile app middle and high school students could use to report concerning behavior or incidents. Manweller, who has for several years sponsored similar legislation only to have it falter in a Democrat-controlled House, was not unequivocally pleased to see it revived in this fashion.

“I’m disappointed that my bipartisan school safety bill was attached to a gun control bill,” Manweller said in an email. “One of the more appealing facets of my bill is that it improved school safety without limiting 2nd Amendment rights. I would like to see my Students Protecting [sic] bill run as a stand-alone bill.”

A third provision would create two school safety centers, one on each side of the Cascades, to improve regional consistency in safety, suicide prevention and behavioral health threat assessments. The measure also repeals the authority of the state’s nine Educational Service Districts to coordinate school safety plans for themselves.

The measure would also establish a grant program to fund more school resource officers, and an annual school safety summit will be held to overview what progress the state has made to prevent future school shootings.

The first substitute at once broadened and narrowed gun control regulations in the bill. When it was introduced, the measure would have placed an age-based ban on all ‘tactical’ weapons, which would have included semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with certain attachments.

All language referring to shotguns was dropped during the bill’s revision, but so was all language referring to certain attachments. In its current form, the measure would ban anyone under 21 years old from purchasing a semi-automatic rifle of any kind, though it notably does not ban the possession of the weapons.

Background checks and applications processes would also be more rigorous in future sales of semi-automatic rifles, raising requirements to that of the sale of a pistol.

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