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Trustees, gun advocates debate letting teachers carry

01/28/2013 11:23 PM

01/28/2013 11:35 PM

ARLINGTON -- School board members continued to argue against arming teachers and other school district employees during a panel discussion with gun advocates Monday night.

School board President Peter Baron and Trustee John Hibbs said allowing teachers to carry a concealed weapon to work detracts from what they were hired to do.

"I think injecting guns into a crowded classroom situation is not the way to go," said Baron.

But gun rights activists David McElwee and Bill Sandlin countered that allowing district employees to be the first line of defense against an armed intruder much like the one who broke into the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., is the only logical thing to do.

"It's my opinion that the best way to protect the schoolchildren is armed teachers," Sandlin said in his opening remarks. "We don't have any protection at all in elementary schools in this town."

The panel discussion was sponsored by the Arlington Alliance for Responsible Government, a citizens watchdog group, at a barbecue restaurant in central Arlington. An audience of about 35 people, including teachers and gun enthusiasts, attended the meeting.

Damon Ing, a concealed handgun license instructor, also spoke on the training people receive in order to get a concealed handgun license.

'Last line of defense'

McElwee and Hibbs carried much of the conversation.

"We're in a period of critical immediacy," McElwee said.

He said state law allows individual school districts to make the decision on whether to permit licensed employees to carry guns on campus, and the Cleburne district considering it.

"How long is it going to take to get a buzzer system and badges?" he said, alluding to the district's latest plan of security upgrades at the district's 51 elementary schools. "That's not good enough. The last line of defense is that person in the school building."

Hibbs said the district is embarking on a comprehensive facilities assessment with an emphasis on heightened security, with Baron adding that police patrols have been stepped up around the district's elementary campuses.

The Arlington district's high school and junior high campuses already have on-site school resource officers who carry weapons.

Hibbs said he simply does not agree with arming teachers in the classroom. He said a statement from McElwee that there is no such thing as absolute security and that even armed resource officers could have their guns taken away in an attack simply made his case for him.

"Do you think a schoolteacher who has never had extensive training like a police officer has, how much easier would it be to have that gun taken from her as from a police officer?" Hibbs said. "They are hired to be teachers. I want their focus to be on education."

Ing said that several people brandishing guns would be chaotic for police responding to an emergency.

Support for officers

Christian Kelly, an Arlington teacher and the father of two and a handgun licensee, said he came to the meeting because he is concerned about a lack of security for his elementary-age children.

"I feel I was given good information in the handgun classes," he said. "I feel I was prepped well, though I don't advocate firearms in our schools at this time. I don't feel at this time [teachers] would be adequate first responders. I'm very much advocating to put more police officers in our schools."

Hibbs also mentioned the dangers of female teachers having their purses stolen, including their concealed weapons. He also mentioned that recent school attacks have been carried out by shooters wearing body armor.

"Unless someone had a keen shot to the head, a revolver shot is not going to stop them," he said.

McElwee charged the board members with not trusting teachers and other staff enough to carry weapons.

"Trust is something lacking in education for a long, long time," he said. "The lack of trust of educators, it reeks."

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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