The superintendent won’t disclose how many of the school’s 50 employees carry weapons, saying that might jeopardize school security.
In the tiny Texas town of Harrold, children and their parents don’t give much thought to security at the community’s lone school—in part because some of the teachers are carrying concealed weapons.
In remote Harrold, the nearest sheriff’s office is 30 minutes away, and people tend to know—and trust—one another. So the school board voted to let teachers have guns in school.
“We don’t have money for a [school] security guard, but this is a better solution,” Superintendent David Thweatt said. “A shooter could take out a guard or officer with a visible, holstered weapon, but our teachers have master’s degrees, are older, and have had extensive training. And their guns are hidden. We can protect our children.”
In the awful aftermath of last week’s Connecticut elementary school shooting, lawmakers in a growing number of states—including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Oregon—have said they will consider laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry firearms at school.
But critics, including the nation’s two principals’ organizations, say having more guns in school would not boost school security and could do more harm than good.
(Next page: More about Harrold’s example—and could such policies become more commonplace?)
Texas law bans guns in schools unless the school has given written authorization. Arizona and six other states have similar laws with exceptions for people who have licenses to carry concealed weapons.
Harrold’s school board voted unanimously in 2007 to allow employees to carry weapons. After obtaining a state concealed-weapons permit, each employee who wants to carry a weapon must be approved by the board based on his or her personality and reaction to a crisis, Thweatt said.
Employees also must undergo training in crisis intervention and hostage situations. And they must use bullets that minimize the risk of ricochet, similar to those carried by air marshals on planes.
CaRae Reinisch, who lives in the nearby community of Elliott, said she took her children out of a larger school and enrolled them in Harrold two years ago, partly because she felt they would be safer in a building with armed teachers.
“I think it’s a great idea for trained teachers to carry weapons,” Reinish said. “But I hate that it has come to this.”
The superintendent won’t disclose how many of the school’s 50 employees carry weapons, saying that revealing this number might jeopardize school security.
The school, about 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth near the Oklahoma border, has 103 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Most of them rarely think about who is carrying a gun.
“This is the first time in a long time that I’ve thought about it,” said Matt Templeton, the principal’s 17-year-old son. “And that’s because of what happened” in Connecticut.
Thweatt said other Texas schools allow teachers to carry weapons, but he would not reveal their locations, saying they are afraid of negative publicity.
The Texas Education Agency said it had not heard of any other schools with such a policy. And the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence did not know of any other districts nationwide that allow school employees to carry concealed handguns.
But that might change soon.
Oklahoma state Rep. Mark McCullough said he is working on a bill that would allow teachers and administrators to receive firearms training through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, which would authorize them to carry weapons at school and at school events. Other states are proposing or considering similar measures.
However, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder this week vetoed legislation that would have allowed concealed weapons in schools, churches, and day care centers, saying he seeks a more “thoughtful review” that includes school security and emergency policies and mental health-related issues.
In Texas, guns have an honored place in the state’s culture, and politicians often describe owning a gun as essential to being Texan. At the state Capitol, concealed handgun license holders are allowed to skip the metal detectors that scan visitors.
Gov. Rick Perry has indicated he would prefer to give gun owners the widest possible latitude. Just days after the Connecticut attack, Perry said permit holders should be able to carry concealed weapons in any public place.
Last year, many Texas lawmakers supported a plan to give college students and professors with concealed handgun licenses the right to carry guns on campus, but the measure failed.
(Next page: Why critics think allowing guns in school is a bad idea)
Opponents insist that having more people armed at a school, especially teachers or administrators who aren’t trained to deal with crime on a daily basis, could lead to more injuries and deaths. They point to an August shooting outside the Empire State Building, where police killed a laid-off clothing designer after he fatally shot his former colleague. Nine bystanders were wounded by police gunfire, ricochets, and fragments.
“You are going to put teachers, people teaching 6-year-olds in a school, and expect them to respond to an active-shooter situation?” said Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, who called the idea of arming teachers “madness.”
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said she would not have felt better if teachers at her children’s Seattle school had been armed during a May shooting at a nearby cafe. A gunman killed four people at the cafe and another woman during a carjacking before killing himself. The school went on lockdown as a precaution.
“It would be highly concerning to me to know that guns were around my kids each and every day. … Increasing our arms is not the answer,” said Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and CEO of MomsRising.org.
On Dec. 19, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals released a joint statement opposing proposals to arm school officials.
“NASSP School Safety Specialist Bill Bond, who experienced a school shooting as a principal in 1997 and who has assisted in the aftermath of just about every school shooting since, reminds us that most of these incidents happen very quickly and last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes,” the statement says. “Bond’s close examination of each shooting incident reveals a complex series of decisions that a school official would have to make to eliminate the threat while still safeguarding the school. It is not reasonable to expect that a school official could intervene in a deadly force incident, even with a modicum of training, quickly and safely enough to save lives.”
Even the slightest hope of saving lives, the organizations add, “bumps up against another well-researched reality: Gun-related violent behavior is closely connected to local access to guns. If we increase the number of guns in schools—no matter how carefully we safeguard them—we can expect an increase in gun violence.”
While there is no simple solution to increasing school security, the groups say, there is something schools and communities can do: “Build trusting relationships with students and others in the community, so that communication flows freely among public agencies and threats come to light quickly.”
“We need policy makers to support and promote collaboration among community-based mental health organizations, local law enforcement agencies, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment,” the statement said. “These efforts should promote wellness in schools, including how to address the mental health needs of students and all community members, while responding to potential threats to community safety.”
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, agreed. He said focusing on arming teachers distracts from the “real things” that could help prevent a school shooting “and at worse it furthers a dangerous conversation that only talks about guns as protection without a discussion about the serious risks they present.”
As the debate continues, Harrold’s school plans to leave its policy unchanged.
“Nothing is 100 percent at all. … But hope makes for a terrible plan, hoping that [a tragedy] won’t happen,” Thweatt said. “My question is: What have you done about it? How have you planned?”