Texas teachers, officers buck Trump’s idea to arm teachers with guns

Feb 23, 2018
Jay Janner
Maya Morales, 15, holds a sign during a walkout and demonstration for gun control at Anderson High School on Friday. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas teachers, school district officials and school resource officers are panning President Donald Trump’s idea to arm more educators, even as state law already permits certain teachers to carry guns into classrooms.

“As superintendent, I don’t believe most teachers would welcome the idea of being armed,” Round Rock school Superintendent Steve Flores said. “While they would do anything to protect their students, they are trained as educators, not as a security force. The potential danger of (having) more guns in the school, particularly not in the hands of trained law enforcement, is a serious concern as we look for opportunities to keep our campuses safe and secure.”

Speaking at a large conservative political gathering near Washington, D.C., Trump on Friday reiterated he would like to see more specially trained public school teachers — up to 20 percent of them — carrying concealed guns. Trump said that if a teacher had been armed at the Florida high school where 14 students and three staff members were killed in a mass shooting last week, “the teacher would have shot the hell out of him.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday also spoke in support of arming teachers, saying it “makes schools safer.”

Texas laws allow certain teachers to bring guns onto school property, but the number who do is largely kept secret.

Last year, lawmakers expanded gun rights on school campuses, allowing school district employees to keep guns in their locked cars parked on school property.

READ: Texas House tentatively approves allowing guns in school parking lots

At least 172 of the state’s 1,247 school districts have adopted policies to allow staff to carry firearms onto campus, according to the Texas Association of School Boards. The association did not specify which districts opted to allow firearms.

The Holliday school district in West Texas allows district employees to carry concealed guns and board policy outlines the type of weapon, holster and how and when the gun can be used. They must undergo specialized training as well as a psychological evaluation, according to Holliday school Superintendent Kevin Dyes.

“It was just a belief by the school board that that is another layer of security that we can add to our campus safety plan to keep our students and our teachers safe,” Dyes said in an interview with NPR on Friday.

School marshals, whose identities are kept secret, can also bring guns onto school property. They are school employees with special training and authority of peace officers. If the marshal is a teacher, he or she can’t carry the gun but can lock it up within reach.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who authored the bill that created the marshal program in 2013, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday that around 100 people have gone through school marshal training but they might not have completed certification. Villalba told the American-Statesman this week he wants to expand the program.

Central Texas districts

Some of Central Texas’ biggest school districts — Austin, Round Rock, Leander and Hays — don’t have school marshals or board policies permitting guns on district property. Officials from those districts mentioned several other ways they keep students safe.

Most Central Texas school districts have their own police force or contract with local law enforcement agencies to have school resource officers on campuses. The Austin school district is among the few districts with a police and emergency management department. Districts such as Austin, Leander, Lake Travis, Dripping Springs and Hays funnel all visitors through front entrances, leaving almost all doors locked from the outside. Many districts also conduct drills regularly, including lockdowns due to a shooter.

READ: A year later, Sandy Hook shootings still fuel doubts about school security

“Teachers universally reject the idea that somehow it’s our job to carry weapons in schools,” said Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “It’s hard for me to believe that this idea is even treated as a serious public policy issue. It’s like saying, ‘Let’s deal with the plague by spreading more disease.’ It just flies in the face of logic.”

Malfaro said the liability of arming teachers far outweighs the benefit, especially if a gun accidentally goes off or if a student gets hold of it. Restricting guns as well as providing more social services to help students in schools are among the answers to preventing more mass shootings, he said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, criticized Trump’s proposal, saying it simply parrots what the National Rifle Association wants.

“Arming teachers isn’t a legitimate policy proposal aimed at protecting students. It’s an NRA talking point aimed at appeasing a powerful political constituency,” Watson said.

Widespread opposition

Officials with the National Association of School Resource Officers have listed a half-dozen reasons why they oppose allowing teachers to carry weapons onto campus, including that a responding officer could confuse a teacher for a shooter, a teacher without extensive training won’t be mentally be prepared to kill a person, and training with a gun must happen frequently and under simulated, high-stress situations.

The Texas Association of School Resource Officers also opposes arming teachers, but since Texas law permits it, it recommends teachers be extensively trained and that guns be used as last resort.

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“School resource officers in general are trained and equipped to confront an active shooter on campus without waiting for backup,” according to a statement from the Texas association’s board members. “We do not feel that there would ever be enough training to prepare a teacher/administrator for an armed confrontation with a shooter.”

Citing a statistic she learned from her teacher, 14-year-old Avery Smith said the thought of having armed teachers was idiotic.

“The fact that it is even being mentioned is heartbreaking,” Avery said Friday as she participated in a walkout from South Austin’s Bailey Middle School to rally for more gun restrictions. “If trained officers only have an 18 percent hit rate, how do they expect teachers to do?”

Staff writer Melissa B. Taboada contributed to this report.