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Father of Parkland shooting victim calls on Congress to take action

Two years ago, today, my 14-year-old son Alex was murdered during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Alex was one of the first students killed when the murderer fired his AR-15 through the window of Alex’s classroom door. Alex played the trombone in the marching band, was extremely athletic, and his favorite song was “25 or 6 to 4” by the band Chicago.

That horrible day, Alex joined the long list of students in this country who have been murdered in school shootings. As these shootings occur more frequently, Americans are urgently calling for better school safety practices. I have dedicated my life to implementing initiatives that will protect students and faculty members to make sure that Alex and the other 16 innocent victims did not die in vain on Valentine’s Day.

The federal government made the airports safe after 9/11. They made the federal buildings safe after the Oklahoma City bombing. Richard Reid tried to light his shoes on fire and now every American citizen has to take off their shoes before they board a plane. It’s been over 20 years since Columbine and children and teachers continue to be murdered in their classrooms.

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My mission has taken me across the country to advocate for better school safety practices and now, in 2020 we’re finally starting to see real progress on this issue. On Feb. 10 President Trump announced the formation of the Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety inside the Department of Homeland Security. Their website, SchoolSafety.gov houses the best practices that every school in America can use to reduce violence, bullying, and protect schools in America. It also serves as a one-stop shop for all school safety related grant dollars.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new behavioral threat assessment and management strategy program which will be used by local law enforcement. The Unified Threat Assessment Strategy educates officers about warning signs that can be used to identify potential mass shooters and teaches the officers how to properly intervene.

Though progress is being made, we still have much more work to do. Two years after the shooting in Parkland, we still lack comprehensive school safety legislation on the federal level. According to the national non-profit YouthTruth, around 40 percent of children do not feel safe at school. School safety is still a problem. Now is the time for bipartisan solutions.

In the House, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) introduced the Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety Act, better known as TAPS. The bill currently has over 170 co-sponsors, making it the second most-supported bill currently in Congress. It proposes law enforcement techniques pioneered by the Secret Service to identify, investigate, and mitigate threats at the local level. The bill will provide states with training, resources, and support needed to establish community-based, multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment and management units.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced the Eagles Act to establish a national program on targeted school violence prevention which includes expanding research and training to reduce violence in schools.

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On the Senate side, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) introduced the Luke and Alex School Safety Act in honor of my son, Alex, and his friend, Luke, who were both murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This common-sense, nonpartisan bill codifies into statute the newly created Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety Best Practices. The program will be an invaluable resource hub for communities looking to identify school safety measures and implement them within their districts.

I am optimistic about the solutions the federal government is pursuing, and as we approach the two-year anniversary of Alex’s death, I urge Congress to act swiftly and pass these three pieces of legislation.

As the parent of a child who died in one of the growing numbers of tragic school shootings, I can say there are good and bad days when it comes to my family’s grief. I can only hope that, for the sake of Alex, his friends and all the other children and staff members taken away from us too soon, our policymakers will take the necessary steps to help prevent other needless tragedies from happening in other communities across this country. It’s our responsibility to keep our kids safe; it’s time Congress acts on making that a priority.

Max Schachter is the father of 14-year-old Alex who was killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018.

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