There are scores of other gun-toting teachers and school officials in Texas who are known as “guardians.” At least 227 school districts, more than 20 percent of the state’s 1,031 districts, had authorized the guardian program by mid-August, compared to 170 districts in February, according to the Stateline.
Training programs surged this summer after a gunman killed eight students and two teachers in May at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. About two-dozen states have considered similar programs in the wake of the Santa Fe massacre and last February’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members.
“There’s a need out there,” says Bessent of the Wylie Independent School District, who, unlike other marshals, has been publicly identified so he can promote the program. “A school marshal’s responsibility is to isolate, distract and neutralize the threat. If they’re shooting at the school marshal, they’re not shooting at the kids and teachers.”
Craig Bessent, assistant superintendent of the Wylie Independent School District in Abilene, Texas, became part of the Texas School Marshal program in its inaugural class in 2014. Bessent — who has logged more than 500 hours of training and also served a marshal instructor — is a fervent public ambassador for the effectiveness of the school protection program.The Pew Charitable Trusts
Some Texas districts have posted signs on school buildings designed to deter would-be intruders. In the North Texas town of Peaster, for example, signs warn that “the staff at Peaster ISD is armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students.”
But the “Don’t Mess with Texas” style of defense remains controversial. Of all the states mulling such legislation this year, only Florida approved it.
President Donald Trump endorsed the idea, but a well-organized coalition that included educators, law enforcement groups, parents and vocal Parkland students pushed back in a state-by-state counterattack.
“We just absolutely do not agree with gun lobbyists that turning janitors and librarians into sharpshooters is effective,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nationwide nonprofit that helped block bills in 16 of 17 states. Other bills are pending in at least a half-dozen other states.
After Alabama legislators rejected a bill that would have armed teachers and school administrators, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey created the “Alabama Sentry Program” to arm administrators on campuses. Democratic lawmakers denounced her action.
The issue also flared in California after several school districts began using an exemption in the state’s Gun-Free School Zone Act to authorize gun-licensed personnel to carry concealed firearms in schools. A bill signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in October closed the exemption and halted the practice.
The Florida law, while putting in place some gun control measures, created a $67 million marshal program that allows superintendents and sheriffs to arm designated school personnel, though not full-time classroom teachers.
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