Blood will be on the hands of S.C. legislators if they fail to require more safety measures in all public schools and a child dies at the hands of a shooter, state senators were told Wednesday.
"I call on you folks to do your job and help the people of South Carolina and our precious children," said Gary West, sitting beside his 9-year-old granddaughter, Alexis.
West said Wednesday that he supports a bill — sponsored by state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston — to create an eight-member panel to study the installation of metal detectors at each of the state's public schools.
The panel would be required to report its recommendations to the General Assembly within 90 days of the bill's adoption.
"The General Assembly has yet, to this day, taken up any school-safety issues," Gilliard said. "God knows, the voices of the people want us to take some type of action."
Shortly after 17 students and teachers were gunned down at a Florida high school on Valentine's Day, S.C. lawmakers turned their attention to school safety, proposing legislation to curb any future school violence.
Gilliard's proposal was filed before the shooting at Parkland High School. But West — founder of the Protect Our School Children grass-roots organization — said he was happy to see Gilliard had been proactive.
The Senate panel OK'd Gilliard's bill Wednesday, following a 96-8 S.C. House vote endorsing the idea. The proposal now goes to the Senate's full Education Committee.
However, state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he worries about the potential price tag — approaching $100 million a year.
Installing metal detectors could cost S.C. school districts $14.4 million, according to a state fiscal analysis. Staffing those detectors could cost even more — $98.2 million, or more, a year, according to that analysis.
But the safety of S.C. students should prevail over cost, West said, illustrating students' concerns by asking his granddaughter, Alexis, whether she feels safe at school.
"No," she said.
"People might shoot you right?" West said. "If something happens and the children get shot in this state, blood will be on all ... legislators’ hands. I’m here to tell you that."