Gun-Toting Teachers – A Good Idea?

Sunday, November 2nd 2008, 5:17 pm
By: News On 6

By Craig Day, News On 6

UNDATED -- Two people were recently killed in a shooting on a college campus in Arkansas. Just last week school shooting plots were discovered in California and Florida.

Should teachers be able to carry weapons on school grounds?

The News On 6 went looking for answers at a place where teachers are doing just that.

Texas law allows districts to enact policies allowing teachers to have guns in school. One town is doing it.

Glen Bud Smithson is a concealed weapons instructor and state representative from Sallisaw. The retired state trooper says every time he sees news broadcasts of another school shooting, he thinks of a piece of legislation he introduced in 2006.

The bill would have given school districts in Oklahoma the option of allowing properly trained teachers and administrators to have guns in school as a last line of defense if a gunman was on campus.

"It's a way to give them a little bit of security to where they might be able to hold on until law enforcement was able to get there and help them," said Smithson.

Smithson says some rural superintendents wanted the bill because they worried about law enforcement response time. After opposition, mostly in urban areas, the measure died in committee.

While the idea of letting teachers and school administrators carry weapons to school hasn't gone very far in Oklahoma, it has in Harrold, Texas, not far from the Oklahoma state line.

Harrold, Texas is home to only a couple of hundred people. It's 150 miles northwest of Ft. Worth, about halfway between Wichita Falls and Vernon.

The six man football team is looking to finish the season strong. And, it's a small town receiving a lot of international attention because some teachers and administrators are allowed to carry guns on campus.

"We have to be prepared.  And I don't think there is anything wrong with being prepared," said Harrold, Texas ISD Superintendent David Thweatt.

Thweatt wants his school district, with 110 students in K-12, prepared in case there is a Columbine, or Virginia Tech type shooting in Harrold.

"I feel better protected for them, to know that there are people in our school who are going to answer just in case someone gets in and is an active shooter," said Thweatt.

In October of 2007, the Harrold School Board approved its policy because they also say law enforcement would be too far away in the 978 square mile county to respond quickly.

"Five minutes would be a long time to wait if you have somebody inside your school shooting your children.  Thirty minutes is beyond long," said Thweatt.

Teachers willing to carry a gun, must undergo firearms, hostage situation and crisis management training and would be individually recommended by the superintendent and approved by the school board.

"We're able to select those individuals.  On their temperament and demeanor and who we felt was a good person that we would trust with our own children," said Thweatt.

Like many small districts, Harrold can't afford security guards or school resource officers. The district has installed electronic entries, security cameras and panic buttons tied to alarms. But, school leaders didn't think it was enough.

The News On 6 asked Denzel Kesterson, the president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, what he thinks about the Texas policy.

"Teachers are teachers, not people that need to worry about carrying guns or those kinds of things," said Kesterson.

Kesterson says districts can take other means to make sure buildings are secure and students are safe.

"Should we be watchful in doing the things we need to do?  Oh yeah.  But as far as carrying a gun, no.  I just don't see that as being something we could do," said Kesterson.

But, Thweatt argues guns on campus at least give schools a fighting chance as a last resort.

Thweatt predicts if Oklahoma passes a similar measure, the perception will be that all schools are protected, even if only a few districts adopt the policy.

"The minute that happens, school shootings in Oklahoma will probably drop down to zero," said Thweatt.

"I hope we don't get to that point where we're that paranoid, that scared of people getting into our building and hurting our children," said Kesterson.

The News On 6 asked Smithson what his reaction is to the critics who say guns don't belong in school. 

"I agree 100%.  Guns don't belong in school. Period.  Unfortunately, we're not keeping them out of schools and I think there needs to be at least one good guy there with a gun when you got some bad guys there with one," said Smithson.

As for the issue in Oklahoma, Representative Smithson says the timing just wasn't right two years ago. He plans to look at the Texas law closely and if there is enough support from superintendents, he may introduce it again.