GATESVILLE — Amy Hays has firearms hidden in a safe inside her home. But if someone intruded, she doesn’t know how she would react.
“We don’t use them often enough and they’re obviously locked up so in an emergency situation, I don’t know if I would even remember the combination,” said Hays, a Gatesville Independent School District board member. “I would be useless in that situation. It would be better to escape than to try to fight back.”
With an increase in school violence, Hays and other board members revisited Tuesday their discussion about allowing employees to carry concealed handguns on campuses.
Already this year, there were at least seven school shootings nationwide compared to 28 in all of 2013, according to Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group.
While the board discussed hiring a police officer to increase safety during past meetings, board member Joe Nolte said he wants to consider all options, saying police response time might not be enough to diffuse a potentially fatal situation.
Nolte wants everyone to have a chance to defend themselves — especially teachers, who he said would run to protect students before thinking of themselves.
“I’d sure like to give the teachers and the students as much advantage as they can have, if there’s a way to do it responsibly,” he said. “Not just have a concealed and carry license. That’s not enough. There needs to be training for sure.”
Board member Deborah C. Ford wants to explore what other districts are doing before making a decision.
“There have been many boards before us who have discussed this for thousands of hours,” Ford said. “I’d like to know who is doing it and how long they’ve been doing it.”
About 15 miles northwest of Gatesville, the Jonesboro Independent School District adopted the Guardian Angels Program, a policy allowing some district employees to carry concealed handguns on campus.
Jonesboro was among the first districts in Texas to allow guns on campus when it passed its policy in January 2013. Superintendent Matt Dossey said every community and every district has different needs. For his district, more than a dozen miles away from a police station, Dossey said allowing employees to carry concealed handguns on campus was welcomed by the community.
“It’s one of those things where everyone has to be on board or you don’t do it,” he said.
The district doesn’t release the number of employees enrolled in the program or where they are located to ensure their safety. But he said they consulted civilian and military law enforcement officers to determine strategic points to have employees with guns.
Not playing ‘Old West’
Before adopting or rejecting a policy in Gatesville, Hays suggested also contacting officials at nearby Fort Hood and the National Guard to discuss civilian responses to emergency situations.
“It seems difficult to decide if civilians (without police training) would react the right way, even if they were empowered to do so,” she said. “Fight or flight? I’d be curious to see what they say happens in these situations.”
Dossey said Jonesboro ISD conducts frequent background checks and psychological examinations on employees to make sure the program is as effective as possible.
“Before we’re going to put a weapon in someone’s hand, we take it very seriously,” he said. “Not everyone is running around here with pistols strapped to their pants and playing Old West.”
And the Guardian Angels aren’t trying to be police officers; they won’t arrest people, Dossey said. What they will do is protect the district’s 190 students.
“If a hostage situation arose, we’re not going to sit there and try to talk them down. We’re going to get all our kids to a safe place and isolate the incident until the police get there,” he said. “We’re not trying to play police officer. We’re just trying to give our children a fighting chance. Police officers aren’t always around, but as teachers, we are here.”
Since the policy was adopted last year in Jonesboro, Dossey said they haven’t had to implement any of the training.
“Hopefully we never have to,” he said.
At the end of Gatesville’s meeting, the board took Nolte’s suggestion of consulting the school district’s attorney to discuss the liability involved with teachers carrying handguns on campus.
“You never know until something actually happens,” Nolte said. “If something happened and there was something more that I thought I could do, that would just tear me up. ... I’m willing to take a little bit more liability to keep the kids safer.”