Teachers to tote guns in Texas

Mary Vallis, National Post, August 19, 2008

Teachers in Harrold, Tex., are bringing concealed handguns to class in an extreme attempt to keep the district’s only school safe.

Harrold Independent School District is believed to be the first in the United States to allow teachers to carry arms. The policy was introduced in October, 2007, but is only coming to public attention now, re-igniting a debate over whether guns have a place in schools.

"I can lead my children from a tornado. I can lead my children from a fire. I can lead them from the railroad tracks that run about 400 feet from us. I can lead them from a toxic spill quickly. I cannot lead them from an active shooter," David Thweatt, the district’s superintendent, said in a telephone interview. "We had to come up with a solution."

A Nevada-based firearms training centre has offered every teacher in Harrold a free, four-day handgun course.

"Finally, a public school gets it right," said Ignatius Piazza, founder of the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. "To prevent a school shooting massacre you must be prepared to stop the attack immediately. Placing a gun in the hand of a trained teacher is the answer."

The school, which has 110 students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 12, already has state-of-the-art camera and alarm systems, in addition to card-swipe entries and a button that locks all doors.

Mr. Thweatt insisted the gun policy is necessary because the school is about 30 minutes from the nearest sheriff’s office in Vernon, Tex., 240 kilometres northwest of Dallas.

He believes declaring schools gun-free zones only makes them more attractive to potential shooters, who know they will not be challenged. The Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania convinced him all schools are vulnerable, not just urban ones.

The district’s policy, which passed unanimously, allows school employees with proper licences to carry concealed weapons while performing their normal duties. Mr. Thweatt would not comment on how many teachers carry guns.

Experts argue it would make more sense to hire private security or allow police officers into the school, but the superintendent believes his district’s solution is better because it keeps guns out of sight, leaving students to remain focused on their studies.

Educators in Houston, where armed police regularly patrol schools, disagree.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, called the policy "embarrassing" and "the stupidest move that I have seen done in public education.

"This is the sort of thing that puts us on late-night TV in Texas," added Ms. Fallon, who owns a .357 handgun.

She characterized the situation in Harrold as a tragedy waiting to happen.

"Whether they're rural or urban children, they have one thing in common: They are all fascinated by guns, and they will play with them if they find them," she said.

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