On the afternoon of February 14, as a gunman massacred students and staff at a Parkland, Florida school, the police chief in the Argyle school district north of Fort Worth was meeting with the high school nurse, principal and counselors. They were reviewing their plan for responding to an active shooter on their campus.
How Argyle High School would have reacted to a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle and multiple rounds of ammunition might have been different than in Parkland, because some of the teachers and staff at the Argyle district’s four campuses carry concealed weapons.
TEXAS SCHOOL MARSHAL PROGRAM
Argyle started a school marshal program four years ago after the Texas Legislature passed Rep. Jason Villalba’s House Bill 1009 in 2013. The Dallas Republican’s bill set up strict requirements for arming school employees, whose identities are known only to school administrators and law enforcement. The firearms are usually secured in locked containers at the schools and can be used only in the event of an active shooter. Marshals undergo extensive weapons training.
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A decade ago this editorial board would probably have said no-way, no-how could we support the idea of having our teachers pack heat in the classrooms. Their job is educating, not policing a campus.
But in Texas some teachers and school staff are already carrying guns. It’s up to each school district to decide whether to allow that.
So, as this debate explodes nationally, we think it’s worth exploring what’s already in place, and it’s worth rejecting some of the off-hand remarks and ideas that are inappropriate or dangerous.
President Trump, for example, has suggested teachers could receive a “little bit of a bonus” if they agree to carry handguns at school.
That’s insulting, to suggest teachers will tote guns and provide an extra layer of security if you just give them some money.
Here in Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton told a talk radio host that his wife, Angela, an educator, “ought to be able to conceal and carry at school because she’s been trained.”
THE RIGHT FIREARMS TRAINING MATTERS
Paxton is wrong when he suggests the training required for a conceal carry license is adequate for protecting children and stopping an attacker.
The Department of Public Safety says only one to two hours of firearms instruction plus classroom study, often online, is required for a conceal carry license in Texas.
We agree with Villalba: Conceal carry training is meant for personal protection, but it doesn’t prepare the permit holder to safeguard students and disable an attacker at school.
“There’s a risk this individual may not know how to engage an attacker without causing collateral damage,” Villalba says.
In contrast the school marshal training offered by the Texas Center for School Safety is an 80-hour program. It includes hands-on weapons training, when to use lethal force and lessons on securing potential victims.
Argyle Police Chief Paul Cairney says his district has taken the marshal training further. District staff who choose to participate spend an initial three to five days on a gun range and complete refresher courses throughout the year. They practice scenarios for responding to an active shooter. Cairney says their identities are so closely protected that no one other than a few administrators and police know who they are.
The district is upfront about the program. At the entrance of every campus is a sign that states: “Please be aware that the staff at Argyle ISD are armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.” We aren’t sure every district with marshals is as public about its program but believe they should be. The Center for School Safety says it's not allowed to disclose schools that have used its training.
Argyle is a small district of several thousand students and just two full-time school police officers. Cairney says the marshal program ensures greater protection on all campuses.
We wish every Texas school district could afford an adequate professional security force. We wish the culture that has repeatedly made school children targets for unhinged shooters didn’t exist. We hope solutions other than arming school staff will evolve to ensure our children are safe.
Meanwhile we must acknowledge that educators are already carrying guns in some Texas schools. Every school district in our state gets to decide whether to allow that and what requirements should be in place. In the four years the marshal program has been in effect we know of no instances where an armed teacher has pulled a weapon. So, we urge districts that chose to allow the guns to consider the training and safeguards that go with a marshal program. The idea that conceal carry training or some lesser preparation is adequate for arming school staff is reckless and frightening.