The latest U.S. debate: Should teachers carry guns?

In one school district in northwest Texas, some teachers are allowed, even encouraged, to be armed, a controversial policy that advocates believe may prevent shooting rampages like the one in Newtown, Conn.
A young girl waves as her school bus pulls into Hawley School in Newtown, Conn. Some U.S. lawmakers are proposing that teachers carry weapons in school to prevent shooting massacres similar to what happened in Connecticut. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

In the small rural Harrold Independent School District in northwest Texas, some teachers are allowed to be armed with guns — a controversial policy that advocates believe may prevent shooting rampages like the one in Newtown, Conn., and has gained traction among other U.S. lawmakers.

Superintendent David Thweatt created the so-called Guardian Plan about four years ago in response to the 2006 shooting in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and to the Virginia Tech shooting spree of 2007. Teachers in this school district, who have undergone gun handling training and who have been approved by the school board, are given permission to carry concealed weapons.

"We’re 18 miles and 30 minutes from the nearest police station," Thweatt told "So we are our first responders.

"If something happened here, we would have to protect our children. You know, police officers are true, everyday heroes in my book, but one of them once told me something very revealing. He said, 'Ninety-five percent of the time, we get to the scene late.' I can’t afford to let that happen."

In the wake of the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday, the idea of arming teachers appears to be gaining political momentum in some states. Though it's not without considerable push-back.

Just prior to the Newtown shooting, Michigan state senators voted to allow people with concealed carry permits, including teachers, to bring their weapons onto school property.

But the American Federation of Teachers is fighting back, trying to get the Michigan governor to veto the new law. 

"Firearms have absolutely no place in our schools — the Dec. 14, 2012, tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is a chilling and heartbreaking reminder of this," AFT president Randi Weingarten and his Michigan counterpart, David Heckler, wrote Gov. Rick Snyder, according to the Washington Examiner.

"Permitting firearms in schools — visible or concealed — enables a dangerous set of circumstances that can result in similar tragic outcomes," the two men wrote.

Still, this is not a debate that looks to be dying down.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert told Fox News over the weekend that he wished the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal, who was reportedly killed after confronting the shooter, had an assault rifle in her office "locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out … she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."

Congressman Louie Gohmert has suggested that had the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal had a gun, she may have been able to prevent the shooting rampage. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Tony Cornish, a former police chief from southern Minnesota, has said he plans to push legislation permitting teachers to have concealed weapons in schools.

South Dakota legislator Betty Olso is drafting a bill that would allow teachers, administrators and even janitors to bring guns to school.

Two Oklahoma lawmakers, state Senator Ralph Shortey and state Representative Mark McCullough are pursuing similar legislation.

Shortey told CBC News that he's amazed more situations similar to the Connecticut school shooting don't occur more often.

"If you're a crazy person that wants to inflict the greatest amount of havoc with the greatest amount of media attention then their first choice should be a school," he said.

"You're guaranteed the most innocent are going to be there so you're going to get the media attention you desire. You're also going to guarantee that there's going to be no security, no protection, because you're guaranteed a gun-free zone."

Under his proposal, teachers would have to pass a background check, a certified firearms instruction program and be proficient with basic training in order to qualify to have a concealed weapon on school property, he said. 

He added that has received considerable feedback from teachers — both from those who said they would like a gun to protect themselves and their students and from those who said they would never have a firearm at school.

Not surprisingly, gun-control advocates have slammed the idea. Dan Gross, president of the Brady campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has said the idea of arming teachers is "insane" and that having additional weapons at the scenes of mass shootings in recent years would have resulted in even "more carnage."

"Think about what that's saying," he said of plans like Shortey's. "It's saying the only answer to violence is more violence. The only answer to guns is more guns," Gross said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was one of the first to urge President Barack Obama to press for a weapons ban, has particularly strong words for Louie Gohmert's suggestion about having an assault rifle at the ready in the principal's office. "You know, there are people who say dumb things and then there are people who say stupid things," Bloomberg said.

Even Gary Kleck, the noted Florida State University criminologist who argues that defensive gun use is an effective deterrent, said arming teachers goes too far.

"Notwithstanding these massacres, schools remain one of the safest places you can possibly be, safer than your own home," he told CBC News. "We don't really know the effects gun-toting teachers would have on children, so personally I think this is a pretty wacky idea."


While Shortey acknowledged that a mass-shooting rampage occurring on a school campus is remote, he said it's better to be prepared.

"If a person wants to do bad, they're going to find a firearm or a knife or whatever and they're going to go and do harm," he said. "This proposal, you fight fire with fire."

He added, "some 99.999 per cent of the schools are not going to be affected. But that one that is, then at least one teacher, one administrator, one secretary will have a firearm ready to respond."

Shortey also downplayed the risk that a student could get caught in the potential crossfire, saying that doing nothing during a shooting is a worse option.

"There's never a situation where a 30-second shootout between an armed assailant and a legally law-abiding armed citizen is worse than the armed assailant having free rein for five to six minutes.

As for the possibility that a student might get his hands on a teacher's gun and cause harm to either himself, staff or other students, Shortey said he believes teachers would be responsible in locking their weapons away in a safe place.

"The kids won't even know if there's a gun in the classroom, and it'll be locked in a way so the kids can't get to it," he said.

"We trust our teachers with the very lives of our children. If we can't trust a teacher with a gun, why should we even trust a teacher with our kids."