Texas district allows teachers to carry concealed weapons at school

According to the Associated Press (AP) as reported in the Times-Picayune, in the community’s lone school in Harrold, Texas, 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 bring guns to school.

“We don’t have money for a 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.”

After 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. 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.

The superintendent will not disclose how many of the school’s 50 employees carry weapons, saying that revealing that number might jeopardize school security. 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 may change soon. Oklahoma state representative 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 Governor 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 emergency policies and mental health-related issues.

Texas Governor 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.

Opponents insist that having more people armed at a school, especially teachers or administrators who are not 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.”

“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 Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and CEO of MomsRising.org.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, 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.

Source:  Times-Picayune, 12/20/12, By Juan A. Lozano and Nomaan Merchant (AP)

[Editor's Note:  In December 2012, Legal Clips summarized articles from both NPR (National Public Radio) and the Associated Press in The Oregonian, which reported on the school shooting in Connecticut and the state of security in the nation's schools.  The Legal Clips summary of the NPR piece includes links to the audio version of the "All Things Considered" segment covering the matter, and to the televised interview of NSBA's General Counsel, Francisco Negrón, on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," in which he offered his perspective of how school boards across the nation develop and implement emergency plans.

In September 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article from the Courthouse News Service, which reported that the parent of a student shot to death by a Northside Independent School District (NISD) police officer had filed suit in federal court against NISD. The suit claimed that Officer Daniel Alvarado ignored orders from his supervisor and violated NISD police department procedure. The suit alleged that "Alvarado drew his weapon immediately after exiting the patrol car. With his gun drawn, he rushed through the gate and into the back yard. Within seconds from arriving at the residence, Alvarado shot and killed the unarmed boy hiding in the shed.”]

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