In Sight

Arming teachers in America

Deep in dusty North Texas ranchland, the Strategic Weapons Academy of Texas runs a firearms defense class designed for teachers and educational staff.

Everyone here is a Dallas-area school teacher. They share similar motivation – a desire to protect the children in their care – and a frustration at the lack of options available to them.

Some believe arming teachers with handguns represents an affordable and potentially effective – but highly controversial – solution.

Active shooter incidents in the United States have been steadily rising in frequency since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, tripling to roughly 20 per year as of now, according to the FBI. With each new attack, the search for a solution becomes more frantic. It can take police as many as 30 minutes to respond to an incident at some rural schools, and many lack the funds to hire dedicated security officers. Some school superintendents here are choosing to arm their teachers and offer combat techniques to students.

At least 10 states now allow school staff access to firearms under the School Marshal Program after they complete firearms training and pass psychological tests. They are required to keep weapons in lock boxes or their vehicles.

The plan requires no federal oversight. The only rules are that guardians must have a valid license-to-carry permit and do their best to remain anonymous.

“When we’re in the classroom, that’s not an environment you want to play with,” Glynn Wilcox says. “We’re always outnumbered.”

Tim Bulot, an active SWAT sergeant with 35 years of experience, founded Strategic Weapons Academy of Texas in 1998, and offers classes to law enforcement members and civilians.

“In a lot of these shooting situations there’ve been reports of teachers putting themselves between the threat and the students,” Bulot says, “so we took that natural movement of wanting to protect the children and added a means of defense – the firearm.”

Students are also preparing for their return to campus this fall. In a Houston-area church, a student practices apprehending an armed attacker during a combat class marketed toward civilians.

The exercises expose trainees to realistic simulations using fake blood and blank rounds, practicing scenarios under stress. The classes are run by MAST Solutions, which has primarily served the law enforcement community but increasingly finds it clients coming from schools.

After a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida killed 17 people, President Trump renewed his call for America’s schools to arm their teachers.

“We all have kids in schools – I don’t know what the answer is,” Bulot says. “I mean the intersection between mental illness and firearms – it needs to be addressed.”