Watch the CBS Reports documentary “Guns in the Classroom” in the video player above.
Since January, 50 people have been killed and 122 injured in at least 152 incidents of gunfire on school grounds across the U.S. To respond to the threat of such attacks, some districts — in at least 29 states that allow it — have taken the controversial step of authorizing school staff, other than security guards, to carry firearms on campus. Texas is one of those states.
In the aftermath of the shooting inthat killed 19 children and two teachers, Texas Republicans have urged schools to arm up and “harden the target.” But Texas state laws regulating armed staff are sparing, allowing school districts to decide for themselves the type, and amount, of training school staff need to carry guns on campus.
“I feel like as educators and coaches, we have an obligation to protect … other parents’ kids while they’re in our custody,” said Garret Avalos, a teacher in Rankin, Texas, who is authorized to carry a gun on his school’s campus. “So it’s a no-brainer for me.”
According to the Texas Association of School Boards, “school districts can grant written permission for anyone, including designated employees, to carry firearms on campus” under Texas Penal Code 46.03, but the law does not lay out standards for training. The only thing a school employee needs in order to carry a firearm on campus is a license to carry, which requires a background check and a proficiency demonstration. Otherwise, individual districts determine the amount and type of additional requirements, which can includetraining courses and psychological evaluations.
These plans are colloquially known as “guardian plans.” In 2007, the Harrold Independent School District in Harrold, Texas, reportedly became the first in the state to adopt a plan that resembles what’s now known as a guardian plan. A Texas School Safety Center audit found that as of 2020, 280 school districts out of 1,022 have adopted some version of one.
Jeff Sellers is the owner of Schools On Target, which offers firearm instruction to school staff through his Texas School Guardian Program. He told CBS Reports that for his program, he requires his trainees to shoot with 90% accuracy and register 40 hours of training before he will pass them, and he also requires the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a psychological evaluation commonly used to assess candidates for law enforcement. After course completion, he then works with the school’s administrators to help them approve guardians.
Sellers says legally, teachers can be armed in schools without any training if that’s what the district decides. But he says the schools he works with try their best to institute comprehensive requirements.
“We’re working with educators,” said Sellers. “Our clients are very intelligent people. They have boards that hold them accountable.”
Despite these efforts to arm teachers, Sonali Rajan, a school violence researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, says there’s no evidence that it makes schools safer.
“There is no science available at the moment, absolutely none, that shows that arming teachers would either deter gun violence from happening to begin with, nor would it deter or reduce the lethality of a shooting once it was occurring,” said Rajan. “There is evidence that shows very clearly and very definitively that the increased presence of firearms leads to increased firearm violence and firearm related harms.”
Two weeks after the Uvalde shooting, the Texas American Federation of Teachers conducted a survey of 5,100 Texans, 4,673 being school employees. Of all respondents, 76% said they “do not want to be armed or expected to intercept a gunman.”
But Sellers believes there’s no choice.
“No gun control law is going to prevent an evil person from committing an evil act,” he said. “If they don’t have guns, they’re going to use knives, they’re going to use explosives, they’re going to use a vehicle through a building. You’re not going to stop evil from committing evil.”