After Santa Fe Shooting, Texas Leaders Push to Arm Teachers

By Evie Blad — May 20, 2018 4 min read
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Days after 10 people were shot and killed in a Texas high school, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for more armed teachers, which are already permitted under the state’s laws.

“We need our teachers to be armed,” Patrick said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “When you’re facing someone who is an active shooter, the best way to take that shooter down is with a gun. But even better than that is four or five guns to one. And yesterday, or Friday, because of the heroic action of our two officers on the campus who were armed and a roving officer and a state trooper who showed up very quickly, they were able to stop the shooter from killing more.”

A 17-year-old male student opened fire inside Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, Friday, killing 10 people—most of the students—and injuring 13 others. Police say two school-based police officers engaged the gunman, and one was injured.

The debate over arming teachers has surged in recent months. President Donald Trump recommended training and arming some educators after the mass shooting of 17 students and educators in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

Supporters of arming teachers say an increase in armed adults will serve as a deterrent to would-be shooters and will allow for a quicker response in the event of an attack. Critics—including teachers who’ve survived school shootings and groups that represent school police—say arming teachers could create new safety concerns, and that it would not be possible for educators to keep up with the level of ongoing training necessary to respond to complicated active shooter events.

A number of states, including Texas, allow districts to arm some teachers, but school safety experts say many school boards opt not to. Since the Parkland shooting, many states have considered plans to arm school staff or loosen restrictions on concealed carry in school zones. Most of those efforts have failed.

Florida quickly passed a multi-faceted schools safety bill that included some restrictions on gun sales and a voluntary measure that allows districts to train and arm some school staff. The Broward County schools, which include Parkland, voted against arming some staff.

Texas arms school staff through a “school marshal program” developed after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Modeled after air marshals, who carry weapons anonymously on airplanes, the program requires a psychological evaluation and 80 hours of firearms instruction. Texas school districts can also pass local plans to arm school staff.

Santa Fe’s district leaders “agreed last fall to eventually arm teachers and staff under the state’s school marshal program,” the Washington Post reports. The school had followed many best practices for school security, including the use of an active shooter plan to prepare for the unlikely event, the Post reports.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) plans to hold discussions about school safety this week. Abbott and Patrick have both suggested limiting the number of school entrances to reduce entry points for would-be attackers.

Complicating the resurgence of the gun debate that followed the Parkland shootings, police said the Santa Fe gunman used a legally purchased pistol and shotgun owned by his father to carry out the attack. Those guns, and the way they were purchased, have not been the focus of the proposed gun restrictions championed by student activists in recent months.

On CNN, Patrick urged gun owners to keep their guns locked away so they wouldn’t be misused by others. But he dodged a question about whether Texas should adopt a law requiring owners to secure guns and holding them liable if they are used in an attack.

“Every parent out there needs to understand, every gun owner needs to understand, you must control your guns at home and make sure they are locked up and and keep others from getting your guns,” Patrick told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

In another appearance on ABC’s This Week, Patrick told anchor George Stephanopoulos that school violence is a “multi-facted problem” that can’t be blamed on guns. He pointed the finger at video games, bullying, and a culture that “devalues life.”

“It’s not any one issue,” Patrick said. “But we, again, we have to look at our culture of violence, just our violent society, our Facebook, our Twitter, the bullying of adults on adults, and children on children. We have to look at ourselves, George, it’s not about the guns, it’s about us.”

Two parents who lost their children in school shootings pushed back on Patrick’s statements.

“Those are idiotic comments,” Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in Parkland, said on This Week. “I am raging right now.”

Guttenberg has pushed for new gun laws, and he’s also supported efforts to improve school security and to identify and address students who may harm themselves or others.

“We want to talk about all of it, because to solve this problem, we must,” Guttenberg said.

Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan died in the Newtown shooting, said its important for schools and policy measures to adopt prevention strategies in addition to physical security measures. Hockley’s organization, Sandy Hook Promise, has advanced threat assessment strategies and created an anonymous tipline that allows students to report concerns.

“This was a hard school already,” Hockley said on This Week. “There were a lot of safety measures in place...We’re simply focusing on the wrong thing here. School control of gun safety measures, that is a mitigation, that is not about prevention.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.