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In Texas, There's No One-Size-Fits-All Strategy To Protect Schools From Gun Violence

Gabriel C. Pérez
A mural at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in Austin honors victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

After the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the Texas Legislature created the School Safety Center, a research center at Texas State University that helps schools prepare for different kinds of disasters.

As the Trump administration launches a commission to explore ways keep schools safe, the center's associate director for research and education offers a few options.

“You limit the amount of access points to a school,” Joseph McKenna said. “It could be working with your local and county law enforcement; it could be the marshal program; it could be arming staff. We have districts across the state that use all these different measures.”

McKenna says every community has different needs. Schools in areas where police response times are fast might be more comfortable relying on law enforcement, while schools in rural districts might lean toward arming teachers.

In Texas, educators can go through a school marshal program to get certified to carry a gun.

Robert Farago, who runs in Austin, that's the best way to stop an active shooter.

“That threat has to be eliminated by force,” he said. “Now, the police showing up, that’s great. But people who are on the site, if they have a firearm, they can do a lot to reduce the amount of carnage being created.”

The state doesn’t release data on the number of teachers who are certified as school marshals.

On the federal level, Texas legislators have introduced measures relating to guns and school safety. Republican Sen. John Cornyn's bill would strengthen background checks for people buying guns. Republican Rep. Roger Williams' bill would create grants for schools to pay for better security. Here's how he described it in an op-ed last week:

"Under this legislation, schools may apply for a grant from the Department of Education in order to conduct an independent security assessment," he wrote. "The results of this assessment will recommend improvements that would be eligible for funding from a Department grant. Necessary improvements might include metal detectors, steel doors, bulletproof glass, emergency training and additional law enforcement on the ground. Final decisions on the needs of each school will be made by local school leadership." 

Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett opposes the proposed legislation.

“Bills like that of Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Williams [are] really an excuse and a political contrivance to avoid taking bold action that’s needed to confront the National Rifle Association,” he said.

He said he wants to see Congress pass laws that create more comprehensive background checks, provide funding for community health programs and ban assault rifles.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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