700 pack free concealed-handgun class for teachers in Tarrant County

Posted Sunday, Apr. 07, 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 shooting 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 in February, and Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Bill Waybourn.

Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were shot to death Feb. 2 at a Glen Rose gun range.

Iraq war veteran Eddie Ray Routh, who relatives say suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, has been charged in the killings and is being held in 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. Waybourn heard from numerous teachers concerned about protection, he said.

A hot topic

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

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

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

In late March, Cleburne school officials said they would not pursue a proposal to allow teachers, administrators and other staffers to carry guns in school after a communitywide 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-graders and that the overwhelming majority didn't want teachers to have firearms in class.

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 at board meetings won approval from the Texas Senate Education Committee and now heads to the full chamber, The Associated Press reported.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, calls for 16 hours of training to show teachers how to protect children first, 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.

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.

Teachers speak out

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.

"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 bought 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 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 them to keep 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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