Students are returning to class with changes that while intended to reduce the possibility of on-campus shootings, actually has increased concerns among many Texans.
Effective Sept. 1, armed personnel must be present at every public school across the state. State legislators passed House Bill 3 in reaction to the 2022 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed.
Critics have voiced concerns about the possibility that armed school staff might be inadequately prepared to use firearms against another armed person. Some worry that shootouts could endanger students who are too young to react logically or respond to teachers’ directions during crisis situations.
Schools can comply with the new law in various ways. Larger Rio Grande Valley school districts have their own police departments, which can increase staff to keep officers at every campus, although it could raise district expenses significantly. Some districts contract with local security businesses, although in the past those guards haven’t been armed.
During the legislative session some lawmakers suggested requiring teachers to carry guns, although it makes little sense to force people to carry weapons against their will. A membership poll by the American Federation of Teachers revealed that 76% of Texas teachers don’t want to carry guns. The National Education Association has cited expectations for the arming of teachers as a factor contributing to the growing shortage of public school educators.
Teachers who want to be armed already can, under the state school marshal program that was created in 2013. Teachers and other school staff who want to participate in the marshal program must have a license to carry, pass a psychological examination and be trained by a law enforcement academy approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. They must renew their training every two years.
According to a Dallas Morning News report, 256 people at 62 Texas school districts were certified marshals — out of some 1,200 districts across the state. The demand for training has been so light that only three institutions provide marshal training — at Tarrant County College, Texas A&M and the West Texas Council of Governments.
Some proponents of HB 3 have said keeping armed personnel on campus should serve as a deterrent to anyone who might want to shoot up a school. We can only hope that’s the case, as the ability of one or two armed staffers to react will always be limited. They can only react after the shooter’s presence is known and relayed to the marshal or security officer. And historically, such assailants often have been current or former students who are familiar with the layout of the building and know they can do a lot of damage by the time the armed staffer can maneuver the long hallways and possible stairwells in most school buildings.
Perhaps the primary intent of HB 3 is to calm parents’ fears and instill greater confidence in the schools to which they send their children. So far, those fears seem to persist.
We trust that school shootings, while always high-profile, remain rare, and we never see an active shooter at our schools.