This bill — the Reinforced Schools Act — would allow states and local governments to purchase equipment for school security activities through the Dept. of Defense (DOD).
What is House Bill H.R. 6975?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 6975
In-Depth: Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced this bill to equip schools with the resources they need to defend themselves and their students from active shooter situations and other threats.
In August 2017, President Trump rescinded Obama-era restrictions on local police agencies’ ability to acquire surplus equipment from the DOD, clearing the way for school police to obtain military equipment through the DOD Excess Property Program, known as “1033.” Prior to the Obama administration’s revocation of this program, school district police agencies in at least 22 states used 1033 to acquire equipment.
When announcing the rollback in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the restrictions “went too far,” and expressed the administration’s commitment to not putting “superficial concerns” above public safety. AG Sessions told the Fraternal Order that President Trump’s executive order would “ensure that [police] can get the lifesaving gear [they] need to do [their] job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal.” He added:
“One sheriff told me earlier this year about how, due to the prior administration's restrictions, the federal government made his department return an armored vehicle that can change the dynamics of an active shooter situation. These are the types of helmets and gear that stopped a bullet and saved the life of an officer during the Orlando nightclub shooting. This is the type of equipment officers needed when they pursued and ultimately killed terrorists in San Bernardino."
When the 1033 program previously existed, Spring Branch, Texas school district Police Chief Chuck Brawner defended his district’s need for military-grade weapons, arguing that:
“School law enforcement needs to have the tools necessary to mitigate any type of serious terrorist or violent episode that may occur within our jurisdiction. The weapons that have been supplied by the military help level the playing field.”
President Obama implemented the 1033 restrictions in 2015 at an interagency task force’s recommendation after concerns that St. Louis-area police agencies equipped with military gear were too heavy-handed in their response to protestors in Ferguson, Missouri.
When the 1033 program previously existed, civil rights groups strongly opposed the transfer of military-grade weapons to schools. In a letter to the Defense Logistics Agency, the ACLU of Texas and others wrote:
“As education and civil rights advocates, we write to urge you to end the Department of Defense (DOD) 1033 Program’s transfer of military weapons to local school districts and police departments for use in K-12 public schools. Adding the presence of military-grade weapons to school climates that have become increasingly hostile due to their overreliance on police to handle routine student discipline can only exacerbate existing tensions, intensifying overly punitive atmospheres that criminalize and stigmatize students of color… The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrate the tensions that invariably develop between local law enforcement and the community when military equipment is unnecessarily deployed against citizens. These events also underscore the negative impact of militarization on the already tenuous relationship between communities of color and law enforcement. Arming school police with military weapons poses the same risks to a much more vulnerable population – the nation’s schoolchildren. The increasing presence of police in schools has already proven problematic, particularly for students of color and those with disabilities. Arming school police with military-grade weapons and gear creates the potential to contribute to climates that students of color already experience as hostile, and contributes to the normalization of the criminalization of these youth, worsening educational outcomes, and producing no public safety benefits.”
Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates for juvenile justice reforms, also opposed the 1033 program in the mid-2010s. Deborah Fowler, then-deputy director of the organization, said:
"Military-grade weapons have no place on our public school campuses. We have already seen the way that much more common weapons – like tasers and pepper spray — can be misused in school settings, and know that excessive use of force in schools is often targeted at young people of color and students with disabilities. We’re simply calling for a return to common sense when it comes to the way our schools are kept safe.”
Similarly, the revelation that the Los Angeles Unified school district’s police department used 1033 to acquire grenade launchers, semi-automatic rifles, and a mine-resistant vehicle sparked protests from community activists, leading the agency to return its equipment.
Of Note: High-profile mass shootings at schools, most notably at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have caused parents’ fears about school shootings to increase sharply in 2018. According to a fall 2018 poll by Phi Delta Kappa International, the association of professional educators, only 27% of K-12 parents felt strong confidence in their school’s ability to deter an active shooter, and one in three parents feared for their child’s physical safety in school — a sharp increase from the 12% of parents who felt the same way in 2013.
However, despite these fears, there’s reason to believe the fear parents and students feel is disproportionate to the actual risk of gun violence in school. In spring 2018, the Dept. of Education reported that there were nearly 240 incidents involving school-related shootings in the 2015-2016 school year — a figure that represents less than half of 1% of all schools in its dataset. Moreover, when NPR investigated these figures, it found that only 11 of the 240 incidents were confirmable — suggesting that the actual figure for school shootings may be even lower than reported in the report.
- 2018 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools
- ACLU Texas and Others - Letter Opposing 1033 Program
- NPR (Context)
- Education Week (Context 1)
- Education Week (Context 2)
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Brett Taylor)
Reinforced Schools Act
To amend title 10, United States Code, to allow States and units of local government to purchase equipment suitable for school security activities through the Department of Defense.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
Committee on Armed ServicesIntroducedSeptember 28th, 2018
- house Committees