credit: roehampton.ac.uk

credit: roehampton.ac.uk

I’m quite familiar with Keene, TX. It’s only about 15 minutes from my home, and its on one of the many routes I use for longer bike rides. It’s a nice place, tranquil and picturesque. But no place is safe from copycat school attacks, and no place is safe from Islamist terror. The Dallas school district was the recipient of a major terror threat only a day or so ago, and that’s only about 35 minutes away. Keene is doing the right thing, but not quite in the right way: 

A small Texas school district voted Wednesday night to allow some teachers to carry guns in the classroom.

School board members in the Keene Independent School District approved the policy, according to KDFW. The Keene district, located in Johnson County south of Fort Worth, has four campuses.

The station reported that the teachers who carry guns would be selected by the district and would only carry a firearm if they wanted to. The weapons would be provided by the district. Other Texas school districts have approved similar measures.

Keene ISD Superintendent Ricky Stephens initially opposed teachers carrying firearms in the classroom when he was hired three years ago. Stephens now said the world has changed, and so has his mind.

There is one potentially significant problem thus far, but there are more:

Stephens told KDFW that the fear a student might overpower a teacher and get a gun will not be an issue. Teachers who are involved with kids in higher level grades will not be selected to carry a gun.

And there it is. Stephens has the right idea for the right reasons, but for whatever reasons, he is not promulgating truly effective policies, and is choosing to leave some students and teacher unprotected. What are the right reasons? The odds that any child will be involved in an armed attack at school are low, very low, but the possibility of that happening has never been greater, and there is nothing preventing it from happening anywhere. No one, no place, is immune.

There is one primary reason for teachers and other school staff to carry concealed weapons: to protect their lives, and the lives of their students, from deadly violence. And this is where a lack of education and misplaced good intentions get in the way.

Stephens apparently understands, at least partially, the secondary mission: deterrence. It’s very important to widely and regularly publicize, including by posting appropriate signs, that teachers and other staff are carrying concealed, but it’s equally important to keep secret their numbers and where they work. In that way, even if not a single person at a given school is carrying a concealed weapon, even that unprotected school reaps the benefits of deterrence.

Judging only by the Fox News article, Stephens is apparently making two mistakes: he’s mandating and buying the weapons, and he’s denying them to teachers in “higher level grades,” apparently out of fear that a student might somehow obtain a teacher’s gun. Here’s why those policies are mistakes:

Micromanagement: Carrying a concealed handgun requires adjustments to one’s wardrobe, habits, and situational awareness. Any school carry policy must require that anyone carrying do so on their person, and that their weapon be concealed at all times. No one observing that person should be able to tell they are armed.

Continually carrying is mandatory if a school is to keep the ultimate mission in mind. What good is a handgun locked in a lockbox in a classroom or a principal’s office suite when an attack occurs on a playground, at an athletic stadium, or as students are waiting outside the school for a bus? What good is such a policy when a teacher is confronted by an armed intruder in a hallway, or as in the horrific case of Coleen Ritzer, in a bathroom?

We carry to have the means to protect ourselves and others immediately ready, because such attacks often come with little or no warning. There is no time to fumble in a pocket for a key, run to a lockbox, open it, and pull out a gun. There is no time to key an unlocking sequence on a keypad.

It’s also important to always have the gun on one’s person. That’s the only way to truly protect it, to ensure that one always knows precisely where it is and its condition. That’s the only way to truly secure it from theft or from being misplaced. Lockboxes quickly become common knowledge and are ridiculously easy to open. A concealed handgun that is well and properly concealed is out of sight and out of mind.

Glock 26 9mm

Glock 26 9mm

With that in mind, it’s vital that the person carrying a handgun choose that weapon themselves, and buy it themselves. There is no good reason to do otherwise. It must, within reasonable parameters, fit their hand, their body, their lifestyle, and their mindset. There is no single gun that is best for concealed carry for everyone. In fact, the market is full of excellent choices, far more than ever before. Mrs. Manor used to carry a Glock 26 as I do, but after hand surgery, the excellent little weapon no longer felt comfortable to her, and another choice had to be made.

What are reasonable parameters for school carry? Keep the rules as simple—and as few—as possible:

(1) Any handgun must be concealed at all times.

(2) It must be carried in a manner that prevents accidental exposure by any means.

(3) Caliber requirements: .380 ACP to .45 ACP, hollow point ammunition only.

Presumably, Stephens is preventing teachers in the higher grades from being armed because he fears older students might be more likely to try to take a gun from a teacher. Such is always possible, even with very young children, but again, which is a more important concern, the ultimate reason/mission for carrying concealed handguns, or every potential problem that might arise? Teachers might leave handguns in bathrooms. They might be tempted to leave them in desk drawers. They might improperly carry them and have them suddenly fall to the floor in front of a class, but all of these problems may be minimized, even eliminated, by proper training. All of life entails dealing with potential risks. Above all, no rule should be allowed to conflict with, or hamper the execution of, the primary reason for carrying, the primary mission.

Stephens has recognized reality, and has the fortitude to act upon it. The lives of the students and teachers entrusted to his care are equally valuable on and off school property. They’re equally worthy of protection by the most convenient and effective means. Recognizing that, why might anyone fail to recognize that the lives of older students and their teachers are as valuable and as worthy of protection when the worst-case scenario comes to pass than those of younger students and their teachers?

And what of training requirements? Are school districts to become mini-handgun/tactical education facilities? Teachers, and citizens issued concealed carry licenses, are vetted identically. Both are photographed and fingerprinted, and subjected to multiple records checks. Any teacher with a concealed carry license has been double-vetted. In most states, obtaining a concealed carry license requires some number of hours of classroom instruction on the laws relating to carrying a concealed weapon and the use of deadly force, and applicants must also shoot a qualifying score with the type of handgun they intend to carry. Anyone with a CC license is, practically speaking, qualified for school carry; after all, they’re qualified everywhere else, aren’t they?

Obviously, anyone carrying in school must be willing. No one must be required, as a condition of employment, to carry a concealed handgun. It is a significant responsibility, and requires constant attention and dedication, on and off school property.

This does not mean that schools should not offer initial tactical training–including safe/training gun practice in the school environment–and regular refresher courses taught by qualified people—the local police are often not the best source–but the absence of this should not prevent otherwise qualified people from fulfilling the ultimate mission. Why should a teacher who safely carries a concealed weapon every day suddenly be considered unqualified and unsafe the moment they step on school property?

What sort of things should such training encompass? Issues mental, physical and tactical. Good starting places might be my series on the rational for school carry,  and my series on the rational for carrying concealed weapons. 

Congratulations to Superintendent Stephens and the students and staff of the Keene Independent School District. Anyone planning a school attack will be far more likely to cross Keene off their list of soft targets and seek out nearby schools still proudly—and foolishly—displaying gun-free school zone signs. They may feel safe, but Keene has taken the only truly effective step toward being safe.

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