As we start the new school year, the safety of our children and grandchildren is foremost in our minds. They deserve to be safe in our classrooms, in our homes, and in our neighborhoods.
I come from a family of educators and understand the challenges facing our students and teachers. My mother was a teacher and librarian, and my sister is a guidance counselor in Fairfax County. My husband, Chip, served in Fairfax County schools for over 30 years as a math teacher and assistant principal. Our children should not be afraid to go to school and learn. Our education professionals should feel safe, so they may focus on educating and ensure each child reaches their full potential.
That is why I worked with my colleagues and authored and co-sponsored bipartisan legislation on gun violence prevention that would make our children and our communities safer.
I have also worked with our law enforcement community and groups such as the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force and the Fraternal Order of Police to identify areas of need, and opportunities to provide increased resources and better laws to support and assist our law enforcement community. Once again, I am honored to be endorsed by the Fairfax Police Benevolent Association and the Virginia Police Benevolent Association.
The three important measures we passed this year include:
-The Fix NICS bill – an improved criminal background check system for gun purchases
-The STOP School Violence Act, which provides more money for school safety and violence prevention
-My Project Safe Neighborhoods legislation, which funds programs to reduce gun crime and gang violence through community-based policing, education and prevention initiatives and more resources for law enforcement.
These three bills had broad, bipartisan support and were the result of years of expertise in tackling these challenges.
The Fix NICS bill
This legislation strengthened the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Congress passed the bill to improve and provide more funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a bill I cosponsored. Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who introduced this bill with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, has said “this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns. It represents the strongest update to the background checks system in a decade and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future.”
This legislation strengthened compliance and reporting requirements, and instituted penalties for agencies that fail to fully report relevant records.
The STOP School Violence Act
I co-sponsored and Congress passed the STOP School Violence Act that led to $2.3 billion for increased school resource officers, school safety programs, mental health treatment, prevention, training and crisis intervention teams when it was incorporated into the omnibus funding bill this year and enacted into law. This bill was largely the result of innovative work done by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation. This foundation is a national nonprofit organization founded and led by several family members who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
This measure was their No. 1 legislative priority, so they could implement their proven prevention programs and create a grant program for states and local communities.
I also have worked with the National Association of School Resource Officers to obtain more funding for the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grants and to direct that additional funding to the School Resource Officers program. These officers become an important part of the institution they serve by being integrated into the school community and working to de-escalate situations, whether it be school violence, student alienation, drug related problems, gangs or bullying.
Recently, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office received the National Association of School Resource Officers Model Agency of the Year Award, recognizing an agency that exemplifies practices ensuring professional service to the school community.
Project Safe Neighborhoods
To assist law enforcement in identifying and combating gang violence, gun crime and drug crimes, as well as strengthen community policing, I’m pleased that Congress passed my bill, H.R. 3249, the Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant Program Authorization Act, which the president signed into law in June.
Project Safe Neighborhoods is a results-oriented, collaborative approach to public safety that utilizes law enforcement and community partnerships and strategic enforcement efforts to focus on the most violent criminals. Thirty percent of the funding will be dedicated to regional gang task forces like the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force that battles the local challenges of MS-13. The grants may also be used for purposes such as those utilized by the former Project Exile initiative, a program launched in Richmond designed to crack down on those who aren’t legally allowed to purchase a firearm.
Additionally, we will continue to expand funding for mental health, which is often at the root of these violent incidents. In the 114th Congress, I cosponsored the 21st Century Cures Act, which fully funded the National Institute of Health (NIH), and included H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016. For Fiscal Year 2018, the Omnibus included flexible funding at $1.1 billion, for mental health programs designed by local governments and schools that will enable them to find creative solutions to improve school safety.
As a former senior Justice Department official, state delegate and now a member of Congress, I have worked extensively with our law enforcement community and recognize the threat gun violence presents to our society.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.-10th) was first elected to Congress in 2014.