The rural urban divide on arming teachers

Austin American-Statesman:
Rural school officials insisted Monday that their classrooms will be safer if teachers are allowed to carry guns, but urban districts and top law enforcement officials warned the practice could put those educators at “high risk” of being mistakenly shot by responding officers in the event of a campus shooting.

The opposing opinions emerged at the first public hearing on school safety at the State Capitol since a gunman invaded a Connecticut elementary school in December, killing 20 children and 5 adults.

Lawmakers are exploring a variety of options to prevent such a tragedy in Texas: State-paid training for teachers who are authorized to carry guns in classrooms, special voter-approved taxing authority for districts to pay for beefed-up security measures, even changes in state law to allow concealed-handgun licensees to carry firearms in college and university buildings.

If there was a common thread in testimony Monday, it was to let local school boards and parents decide the issue of arming teachers.


David Thweatt, superintendent of the Harrold Independent School District north of Wichita Falls near the Oklahoma border, said his district became the first to allow teachers to carry guns in 2007, under a state law that allows districts to authorize employees with concealed-handgun licenses to do so.

Thweatt said his district has had no problems with the policy, and said it allows his 108-student rural school to protect students for the 30 minutes it would take first responders to reach the school in the event of a shooting.

He said the “Guardian Plan” uses school employees who are specially selected for their willingness to proactively confront a gunman and to be properly trained. He said the district pays for the guns and special training, and uses ammunition designed not to ricochet.

“If you can stop it in its inception, you have an obligation to do that,” Thweatt told lawmakers. He provided few details about how many teachers are armed and where they are stationed in the school, but he said the program is much cheaper than hiring security guards.

Superintendents Brian Gray of the Union Independent School District in East Texas and Don Dunn of Van Independent School District east of Dallas said their school boards recently adopted similar policies. Both said they are confident the change will improve security in their schools, for the same reason as Thweatt cited.

“From the moment that an intruder enters one of our campuses, it’s at least a five-minute security gap before law enforcement can arrive,” Dunn said. “Now, we’re able to protect our children, to fill that gap until the police get there.”

But Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Pete Blair, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University in San Marcos, cautioned that a teacher with a gun would risk being shot by responding law officers.

McCraw said officers are trained to “neutralize the threat,” and in split-second decisions after they arrive they would most likely fire at anyone with a gun.

I think the rural districts can lessen the danger of a teacher being targeted by having get acquainted meetings with the limited number of deputies in the area.   Urban districts could have a bigger problem, but identifying clothing could be adopted to lessen the threat.


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