After another shooting, Utah lawmakers pass a school safety bill — but say solutions are unclear

Students grieve outside Pines Trail Center where counselors are present, after Wednesday's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

After yet another mass shooting at a school, the Utah House held a moment of silence for victims on Thursday, the governor ordered flags flown at half-staff — and legislators renewed debates about how best to protect students.

By coincidence of timing, they also passed a minor bill designed to improve school security.

The Senate approved House amendments to SB87 on a 26-0 vote, and then sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration. It tweaks fire codes to allow schools to use barricade locks on doors if they choose, to help prevent entry of a gunman during an attack.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, earlier said a man who wanted to donate such locks had found that fire codes had prevented them in schools, so lawmakers made the needed tweak.

But legislative leaders said Thursday that they frankly are not sure how to stop such attacks — but figure that stronger gun control by itself is not an answer.

“Short of an outlaw[ing] of all guns, you’re going to be faced with somebody who has the ability to have a weapon. That’s a Second Amendment right,” said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.

“So our main focus should be more toward solving some of the mental-health issues that we have” with shooters, rather than tighter gun control, he said.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, added that “automobiles have become the weapons of choice” in some recent terror attacks, so tighter gun control would not affect that.

“When someone wants to do harm… they may find a way to do it,” he said “We need to try to focus on what’s going on in people’s minds an how we can help them” — including possibly better training of how to recognize and help people in distress.

However, Senate Minority Assistant Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said legislators should be willing to look at all possibilities — from gun control to mental health care and improved school security — to help prevent what have become too-common school shootings.

“There should be consideration of all those issues,” she said. “It is an issue of mental health. It is an issue of security. It is an issue of bullying…. There are many other factors.” She added that Congress, not state legislatures, probably has the greatest responsibility to find ways to protect schools.

Meanwhile, leaders simply mourned the victims of the latest shooting in Florida, and offered condolences to their families.

“It’s a horrible situation,” Niederhauser said. “These are grave situations, and our hearts go out to the families in Florida.”