Two years and two months after the fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the 16-person Sandy Hook Advisory Commission has released a draft of its final report suggesting changes to school security and mental health policies across the state.
The 256-page report, which the commission expects to present to Gov. Dannel Malloy in March, offers recommendations to revise current legislation on school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention. Since Malloy created the commission in January 2013, the group has heard testimonies from over 100 experts. In its current form, the draft lists its final recommendations to the governor, including 12 recommendations for improving school safety, 30 for reducing gun violence and 53 for improvements to mental health care in the state.
“This report cannot bring back their loved ones who died, nor can it heal the wounds of the living,” the report said. “But the commission hopes that this report will provide some solace by proposing recommendations that may help other children, parents, teachers and communities avoid similar tragedies.”
President and Owner of the East Haven-based Security Academy of Connecticut Vincent Riccio, who testified in front of the commission in August of last year, said the most important criteria to ensure comprehensive school safety are a secure front entry and doors that can be locked from the inside.
Current practices in New Haven Public Schools require front doors of all schools to be locked after the start of the school day, and for a member of security to allow entrants in through a secure buzzer system.
Riccio added, however, that a secure front entry alone is not enough to prevent an event like the Sandy Hook shooting. He underscored the importance of interior locks on all doors within the school building.
“Typical active shooter incidents do not involve intruders as it occurred with Adam Lanza” he said, referring to the Sandy Hook shooter. “About 80 percent of these events happen by students at that school.”
According to the current draft of the report, the testimony and other evidence presented to the commission revealed that there has never been an event in which an active shooter has been able to breach a locked classroom door.
An NHPS representative could not be reached for comment on whether the district requires schools to have interior locks on classroom doors.
In addition to these physical security measures, the report’s school safety recommendations also include the formation of “school security and safety” committees on each campus. These committees would include representatives from several different backgrounds, including law enforcement, mental health, and the school’s own teachers, staff and parents.
In the report’s recommendations for gun control legislation, the commission endorsed a handful of changes in addition to those previously issued in the 2013 interim report.
Of the commission’s 15 recommendations from the interim report, state officials have adopted two in their entirety: making background checks mandatory for firearm purchases and outlawing the sale or possession of magazines with a capacity for more than 10 bullets. State legislators also changed the state’s gun laws to ban the retail sale of military-style weapons.
With these legislative actions, Connecticut became the third state, in addition to New York and Colorado, to pass measures limiting magazine capacities since the December 2012 shooting in Newtown.
But, since 2013, no strong legislative champions have come to the forefront to make more changes in Connecticut.
The 2013 State Scorecard released by The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, gave Connecticut an “A-” rating, placing it in the top 10 states with the strongest gun control laws.
Some security experts like Riccio, however, have said that state-by-state gun legislation is ineffective at best.
“Reasonable gun control cannot happen in Connecticut. It has to happen on a national level,” Riccio said. “Whatever law you pass in Connecticut is immediately circumvented by the laws that are in place in surrounding states.”
In its lengthiest section, the commission’s latest report tackles the topic of mental health in Connecticut, separating its more than 50 recommendations on the topic into six subcategories, covering issues from barriers to access, to the overlap of mental illness and violence.
Hedy Kober, Yale professor of psychiatry and psychology, said that both financial issues and social stigma are problems that can keep patients from getting psychiatric help.
In addition to recommendations on reducing these barriers, the report also emphasized the difficulty of predicting acts of violence based on mental health diagnoses.
Kober echoed this sentiment.
“Not all school shootings have been perpetrated by individuals who would qualify for a mental diagnosis,” Kober said. “There are some things for which there are data, and we can all agree on that. But something like whether school violence is necessarily related to mental illness? Until someone does a really comprehensive study on that, we don’t know.”
Both Kober and the commission underscored that people with mental health challenges are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
The draft of the report, which the commission will discuss Friday morning, is expected to be presented to Malloy after further edits.