700 pack free concealed handgun class for teachers in Tarrant County

Posted Saturday, Apr. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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KENNEDALE -- After a spring break cruise, Leah Smith and her family returned home to find their garage door dented and backyard fence smashed.

Police confirmed that their Grand Prairie home had been the target of an unsuccessful break-in.

"That was a wake-up call," said Smith, a gun owner for the past decade. "We got lucky this time, but we knew we needed to better arm ourselves."

So when the first-grade teacher heard that a free concealed handgun license class -- largely prompted by the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. -- was being offered to Texas educators, she immediately signed up.

Billed as the "largest CHL class ever held," the all-day session drew roughly 700 teachers and administrators Saturday to the Performing Arts Center at Kennedale High School. Participants delved into gun safety, state and federal laws and dispute resolution, among other topics. Firing at a gun range comes later.

The class was the brainchild of Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL sniper killed last month, and Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Bill Waybourn.

The two had been planning the event before the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield at a Glen Rose gun range allegedly by Iraq war veteran Eddie Ray Routh, who his family said suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Routh has been charged in the killings and is being held at the Erath County jail.

Waybourn, a concealed handgun instructor since 1996, disclosed that he considered canceling the class after Kyle's death, but said he knew his friend would have wanted it to go forward.

"Chris often said, 'It's our duty to serve those who serve us,' " the police chief said. "And we knew we should start with those who serve our children."

The Dec. 14 shootings of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown were largely the inspiration for offering the free course to educators, he said. Afterward, he had heard from numerous teachers concerned about protection, Waybourn said.

Since the Connecticut shooting, arming schoolteachers has become a much-debated topic in Texas and elsewhere.

Texas law allows individual school districts to decide whether to let licensed employees carry guns on campus. Only a few districts now permit it, although others have weighed changing their policies or have increased security measures.

Waybourn made clear the class was not pushing for arming teachers in schools. And Kennedale school district, which hosted the instruction, is not considering allowing faculty to have weapons on campus.

In late March, Cleburne school officials said they will not pursue a proposal to allow teachers, administrators and other staff members to carry guns in school after a community-wide survey showed that many residents and students opposed the idea.

Superintendent Tim Miller said that an English teacher at Cleburne High School surveyed her 10th-grade students, and the overwhelming majority said they didn't want teachers to have firearms in the classroom. Some suggested alternatives like having teachers carry Tasers or Mace and installing metal detectors.

Last week, a plan to train armed teachers to engage in gunfights with intruders in classrooms, at campus sporting events or board meetings won approval from the Texas Senate Education Committee and now heads to the full chamber, The Associated Press reported from Austin.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, calls for 16 hours of training to instruct teachers how to first conceal children during an attack, and then return fire.

But at the Kennedale class, Waybourn cautioned educators that firearms should be used only as a last resort in dispute resolution.

"Your gun is rarely the answer," said the police chief, who responded to Tweeted questions from the audience. "It's mostly what goes on between your ears."

No guns were handled Saturday, and participants were specifically told not to bring their own firearms. But the required live-ammunition firing practice will be held over the next several days at a private range in Kennedale. After completing both classroom and hands-on training, participants will be eligible to receive concealed handgun licenses. After Saturday's free session, the cost for the rest of the special program is $10 and a box of ammunition for practice shots, instead of the usual $140 fee.

Many teachers said they plan to carry concealed handguns while others said they only wanted to learn more about firearms.

Smith, the Grand Prairie first-grade teacher, said she would support arming teachers who received proper training at school.

"More protection can't hurt," she said. "Maybe it would save lives."

Marilyn Mykel, a special education teacher in Argyle, said she and her husband purchased a handgun several years ago after an attempted backyard kidnapping of her son, now 10. They had long considered obtaining concealed carry licenses but never got around to it.

Then came Sandy Hook.

"We said 'This is it,' " Mykel said. "We need to protect ourselves."

Although her school does not allow guns, she hopes that will change.

But Lolita Looney, principal of Bruce Wood Elementary in Terrell, said she viewed the class as an opportunity for educators to protect themselves outside of school.

"As educators, we come into contact with people from all different walks of life," Looney said. "We never know who we'll run into at the grocery store or just out and about. We should be prepared."

Chris Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, and his brother, Jeff Kyle, spoke briefly to participants. Jeff Kyle urged participants to continue training and learning.

"Carrying a firearm doesn't protect you. It may make you feel a little better, but you protect yourself," Kyle said. "A weapon doesn't make you Superman."

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw

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