In 1997, Joel Myrick, then an assistant principal at a Mississippi high school, used his personal pistol, which he kept in his truck, to stop a 16-year-old school shooter with a rifle. Even Myrick—one of the extremely rare cases of an armed teacher intervening in a school shooting—says that arming teachers is a terrible idea.
Teachers in Texas agree. A new report from the Texas American Federation of Teachers, which represents 66,000 current and retired school staff, shows that the overwhelming majority of educators in Texas do not support state leaders’ recent calls to put guns in their hands.
The union sent out a survey to thousands of school staff and parents to gauge the consensus, in the wake of the catastrophic failure of law enforcement to stop the killing of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde last month. Seventy-seven percent of the school employees who responded to the survey said they do not want to be armed or to have the responsibility of stopping a shooter. “Teachers overwhelmingly know that this isn’t something that they signed up for,” said Rob D’Amico, spokesperson for Texas AFT. “They’re not trained to be what in essence is a police officer.”
“An expansion of this idea of arming people on campuses and making them like fortresses just does not sit well with teachers,” D’Amico added. “It doesn’t provide a good inspirational learning environment.”
Conservative Texas leaders put out a clarion call to arm teachers in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. Attorney General Ken Paxton went on Fox News to suggest that giving guns to teachers was a viable alternative to having trained law enforcement on campus. It’s a familiar battle cry. The same calls rang out after a shooter killed ten people at a high school in Santa Fe, near Houston, in 2018.
But the calls have teeth here in Texas, as it’s one of almost 20 states in which teachers can carry guns. The state’s “school marshal” program, enacted under former Governor Rick Perry, trains school employees to become armed first responders in the event of a shooting. Today, there are more than 250 school marshals in the state, Reuters reports. Texas also allows teachers to carry guns under the guardian program, a much-less regulated cousin of the marshal program.
But there is clear evidence that guns in schools pose a significant risk themselves. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found almost 100 documented cases of guns being mishandled at schools in recent years, including several cases in which Texas school officials left their guns in bathrooms, on buses, and in teachers’ workrooms.
The prevalence of gun violence on school campuses is having a hugely detrimental effect on teachers’ morale and sense of safety. The AFT survey found that 90 percent of school employees in Texas have worried about a shooting happening on their campus, and around 42 percent said the Uvalde shooting will impact whether they return to their jobs in the Fall.
But if guns aren’t the answer teachers want, what are they asking for?
Educators agree that school funding in Texas needs a massive cash infusion. The AFT report showed almost 96 percent of respondents think the Texas Legislature should increase public education funding in the next legislative session, notably to fund mental health resources and building updates. Most educators also support some form of gun control, including stricter storage laws, an assault rifle ban, and comprehensive background checks. Texas school employees are actually more widely in favor of these reforms than the general state population.
For many, talking points around arming teachers and school hardening are a dangerous distraction from substantive discussions around gun control.
“There obviously are issues that need to be looked at, like locking doors and other safety measures you can do for a facility. But we don’t want that to be the only thing that is being talked about by the state leadership,” D’Amico said.