NOBLESVILLE — The May 25 shooting at West Middle School brought a déjà vu feeling to U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks. The ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee she chairs is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Parkland, Fla.
Two weeks prior, Brooks and Deutch had introduced HR5715, the Jake Laird Act, named after the Indianapolis police officer who was murdered in 2004 in the line of duty by a man who struggled with mental illness. They introduced it a little less than three months after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School atrocity that killed 17 teachers and students.
“We’ve worked together for six years,” Brooks said of Deutch. “So, I kind of went through Parkland with him. We were scheduled to have a meeting that week and so I have talked with him extensively since Parkland.”
Sandwiched between Parkland on Feb. 14 and West on May 25 was the Santa Fe High School massacre that claimed the lives of 10 Texans. In the wake of that, Brooks tweeted, “The horrific loss of 9 students & 1 teacher today in Texas is heartbreaking. I am working w/my colleagues in Congress to do more, b/c more must be done to prevent the loss of innocent lives.”
Rep. Brooks, a Republican, describes at length the many steps she had taken in the district to head off such an incident. She knows Noblesville schools, and the community is one which had put an array of protocols in place to prevent a massacre. They seemed to work, since only two were injured, compared to 17 deaths at Parkland and 10 in the Houston suburb.
Brooks echoed comments from Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Police Supt. Doug Carter that the protocols in Noblesville, part of a long-time, state school-safety strategy in place at the Indiana Department of Education, kept the injuries to student Ella Whistler (facing a lengthy and arduous recovery after suffering seven gunshot wounds to the face, chest and hand) and teacher Jason Seaman.
“Jason Seaman threw a basketball at the young man, which is what the protocol says,” Brooks explained. “Throw something at a shooter. Kids are actually trained to pick up something to throw at a shooter so someone can try to tackle them. That’s what the teacher did; they trained with that.”
Despite a number of conferences she had convened prior to Parkland and West Middle School, talking with Brooks finds a public servant with a heavy heart. Brooks is very deliberate in walking through what had happened in Noblesville prior to the shooting, and the response of terrified students and parents who are now demanding “hardened” schools.
The proposed national version of the Jake Laird Act is what Brooks talks about most. It enables local law enforcement, with probable cause, to seize and retain firearms from individuals who are determined to be an imminent danger to themselves or others. The burden of proof lies with the state. It has been used in Indianapolis more than 700 times since 2005. At least one study shows that it has reduced the number of suicides.
Brooks has talked to West and Parkland students and parents, urging them to take an activist role lobbying their congressmen and women to sign on to the effort. That’s a fascinating development in deep red Hamilton County, one of the most Republican in the nation. The NRA was originally neutral on the bill, but now opposes.
“I have work to do,” Brooks said. “I’ve got only 13 people to sign on to it. I’ve spoken to my Republican conference three days before the Noblesville shooting, because Santa Fe had happened, and I said to my colleagues, ‘We have got to do something. We have got to ask more questions about it.’”
In a May 9 letter, 24 Parkland parents wrote, “We are the families of the victims killed in the tragedy in Parkland on February 14, 2018. We write to show our support for the Jake Laird Act of 2018 and we strongly urge your colleagues in the United States of America House of Representatives to join with you to quickly pass this legislation. Frankly, we know much more needs to be done to prevent mass murder from ever again occurring in our schools. The safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools cannot wait.”
The Parkland students have had an impact in Florida with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has an A rating from the NRA, and the conservative and Republican Florida legislature. In the wake of Parkland, a series of preventative measures quickly passed and Scott signed them into law.
Brooks wants Hoosier students and parents to get active in pushing the Jake Laird Act. “I encouraged the Noblesville young people to help with that. I know the Parkland students have reached out to them. Parkland parents have reached out. It’s one important step forward. It’s just one, but it’s an important step forward.”
The school shooting epidemic afflicting America won’t be solved by a single approach. It will take a community of activists to induce change. Rep. Brooks is seeking advocates.