Gun activists say they'll push to arm Arlington teachers
ARLINGTON -- In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, two gun-rights activists are preparing to return to the Arlington school board early next year hoping to persuade the district to allow teachers and administrators to carry concealed handguns on campus.
National Rifle Association members David McElwee and Bill Sandlin, who made a similar proposal a year ago and were rebuffed by the board, are sitting down with attorneys and working out a strategy to allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons.
McElwee pointed to the Harrold school district west of Wichita Falls, which has allowed educators to carry weapons since 2007. The district chooses which teachers can bring a firearm to school from among those who have a state concealed-carry license.
"We have to allow qualified people to be ready to roll when the time comes," said McElwee, who is not discouraged by the board's lack of consideration of the idea last year. "The idea of allowing teachers to carry guns is gaining momentum on its own."
Board President Peter Baron said that McElwee is "welcome to come and say his piece, as is any citizen," but that he neither supports the idea of arming teachers nor believes the board's attitude toward it has changed.
"I can't speak for the board, but I can't see it going very far," Baron said.
In the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a lone gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle broke into the school and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life, lawmakers in a number of states have said they will consider laws allowing teachers and administrators to carry guns at school.
Texas' concealed handgun law bans guns in schools unless the district has regulations allowing them. Texas officials have said that Harrold -- which has only one school and is at least 20 minutes from the nearest sheriff's station -- is the only known public school district in the state to take that step.
Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Perry urged school districts to review their plans to ensure they are prepared to respond to incidents such as the horrific shooting in Connecticut. At a public forum in North Richland Hills, Perry said the state's concealed-carry law requires training, registration and background checks before a license is issued.
McElwee, a retired schoolteacher, said the details of any plan would have to be worked out. He recommended that the district -- instead of summarily rejecting the idea -- establish a citizens committee to consider the option.
In Harrold, teachers with weapons are required to get the proper license, use ammunition that is designed to minimize the risk of ricochet in school hallways and agree to receive training in crisis management and hostile situations.
The district does not divulge how many of its 50 employees carry weapons, saying it would compromise school security. Harrold also has other, less controversial security measures, including one-way access to the school, surveillance cameras and electric locks on doors.
"They keep it close to the vest; only a few people know. The strength of this is that nobody knows," McElwee said. "They don't know who is armed and unarmed."
McElwee said the Connecticut shooting proves that the system in Arlington schools doesn't work.
Amy Casas, Arlington district spokeswoman, said the district contracts with Arlington police to keep officers at junior and senior high schools. Campuses are required to regularly conduct drills so teachers and students are prepared for emergencies.
School administrators are in discussions with police and district security to determine how to enhance security, and the board is reviewing all of its security procedures, Baron said.
Opponents say gun-toting teachers are not trained to deal with crimes the magnitude of the Connecticut shooting, and armed teachers could lead to more injuries and deaths.
"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."
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said focusing on arming teachers "furthers a dangerous conversation that only talks about guns as protection without a discussion about the serious risks they present."
But McElwee said the Arlington district may be violating the Second Amendment rights of teachers by not allowing those with a concealed-carry license to bring their weapons to school.
McElwee said he is meeting with an attorney about protecting those teachers' rights.
"They ought to have a constitutional right to carry no matter where they are," he said. "I know teachers in Arlington who are willing and able to do just that. But the teachers don't want to say anything because they don't want to be ostracized by the administration or other teachers."
This report includes material from The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram archives.
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714