From: Keely Gammon
Representative Ken King, Texas House Member, District 88
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
May 1, 2023
Re: School Shootings in the US
Dear Representative King,
I am writing you today regarding the highly serious and sensitive issue of school shootings. As of this moment, there does not yet exist a clearly defined and widely accepted definition for the term “school shooting”. However - that may soon change. Last week, a group of Democratic lawmakers reintroduced a 2020 bill called the School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act, which will require the Department of Education to publish an annual report that recounts each incident of a shooting that takes place on school grounds- including but not limited to such relevant details as the motivation of the shooter, local law enforcement response time, and how the shooting was stopped. This bill is supported by the National Education Association and gun violence-prevention groups.(1)
When it comes to the question of how best to handle school shootings, two prevailing approaches come to mind. Each approach has its pros and cons, just as each one has its share of both supporters and nay-sayers. However, only one of these is backed by the significant empirical evidence needed in order to consciously and responsibly propel it forward(2). The December 14th, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which took place in Newtown, Connecticut and left 26 people dead (including 20 first-graders)(3) gripped the nation and sparked a renewed interest in the debate on gun control in America. Reactions to that horrific event varied greatly -- on one hand, South Dakota enacted a law authorizing teachers to carry a gun to class - the first state in the nation ever to do so(4), while on the other hand, two nonprofit groups called Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), and Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety merged to form the grassroots organization called Everytown For Gun Safety. Everytown is a powerful movement founded in 2006 and funded by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It is comprised of nearly 10 million students, parents, elected officials, and survivors of gun violence(5). Their reaction to the devastating Sandy Hook shooting was to create a national database of all the incidences of gunfire that have taken place on school grounds from 2013- the present. And with the data they gathered, volunteers were able to uncover whether an incident was intentional or accidental, how many people (and who) were injured or killed, if the shooter had a connection to the school, and even how (and from where) the weapon was obtained. So, you can clearly see the difference between the two “prevailing approaches” that I mentioned earlier.
Is one better than the other? Does one approach offer a better solution to the issue of school shootings in the US? I believe so, as do plenty of other citizens.
Since 2013, 32 states have enacted legislation like South Dakota’s, allowing trained school personnel to arm themselves if they have authorization from the district.
However, Texas is the only state currently offering a (hefty) cash incentive for teachers who sign on to be sentinels.
Section 37.08121 of House Bill 13 outlines the School Sentinel program and proposes paying teachers a stipend of up to $25,000 for every year that they sign on to be sentinels(6). This is in addition to what they bring home in pay, which, for a K-12 teacher in Texas averages around $57,808 per year(7). Therefore, your incentive is nearly half what the average teacher makes. That is a strong motivator. And yet, if history is any indicator, the outcome of anything less than a small number of teachers or staff signing up for this appears iffy at best: the reason being that most people feel that programs like this create more problems than they solve.
There are currently 344,362 PreK-12 public school teachers in Texas(8), and yet fewer than 400 have signed on to be guardians since the original program started in 2012(9). If you start from the “ground floor”, not even the teachers themselves want to bring a gun into the classroom.
They do not want the pressure of being called to step into the role of someone that is expected to stop a gunman that could very well be someone they know or have taught in the past. Going beyond that, law enforcement also agents actively oppose these kinds of programs, pointing out the difficulties of knowing exactly how to react in situations where an active shooter is present. The 80 hours of training that teachers would be required to complete in order to qualify as sentinels is not enough. The odds of an everyday teacher actually being able to stop an active shooter are slim at best, and most people understand this. That is why, going further up the chain, these programs are also denounced by Education Secretary Miquel Cordona and National Education Association President Becky Pringle(10).
Most of the time, “good guys with guns” do not, cannot, and should not be expected to stop “bad guys with guns”. That is why we have law enforcement agents and armed security guards.
Thank you for your consideration.
1 Blad, Evie. “What Counts as a School Shooting? Lawmakers Want an Official Definition,” edweek.org (Education Week, April 28, 2023), https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-counts-as-a-school-shooting-lawma... official-definition/2023/04.
2 Rajan, Sonali, and Branas, Charles C. “Arming Schoolteachers: What Do We Know? Where Do We Go from Here?” National Library of Medicine. Am J Public Health, July 2018.
3 “Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting: What Happened?” Sandy Hook Timeline. CNN.com, December 2012. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/12/us/sandy-hook-timeline/index.html.
4 Eligon, John. “A State Backs Guns in Class for Teachers.” South Dakota Passes Law to Let School Employees Carry Guns. NY Times, March 8, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/09/us/south-dakota-gun-law-classrooms.html.
5 “Our History / Everytown.” Everytown.org. Everytown For Gun Safety Action Fund, 2023. https://www.everytown.org/about-everytown/history/.
6 King, Ken. “Bill Text: TX HB13 | 2023-2024 | 88th Legislature | Engrossed.” Legiscan.com. GAITS, April 26, 2023. https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/HB13/2023.
7 “K12 Teacher Salary in Texas.” Salary.com. Accessed May 1, 2023. https://www.salary.com/research/salary/posting/k12-teacher-
8 “Public Education in Texas.” Ballotpedia.org. Accessed May 1, 2023. https://ballotpedia.org/Public_education_in_Texas.
9 Martinez, MaryAnn. “Texas Teachers Packing Heat to Make $25K as Armed 'Sentinels' If Bill Passes.” NyPost.com. NYP Holdings, Inc., April 26, 2023. https://nypost.com/2023/04/26/texas-teachers-to-get-25k-to-carry-guns-if... passes/.
10 Perez Jr., Juan. “Arming Teachers Is Hard, Even in Gun-Loving Texas.” Politico.com. The Politico, May 27, 2022. https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/27/arming-teachers-hard-gun-loving....