Concealed carry at UT raises questions of guns on high school campuses
April 1, 2016
On a grey, cloudy day in April 2007, Brian Erskine and his wife Sarah were driving home from Radford University, a sister school of Virginia Tech, when the news bulletins came in.
At first, it was reported that someone had been accidentally shot. As time went on however, it became much more serious. SWAT teams, satellite trucks, and police officers swarmed Virginia Tech as an active shooter named Seung-Hui Cho, walked into Norris Hall armed with two handguns. He would eventually kill 33 people, including himself.
“The thing that struck me the most was the people jumping out the windows on Norris,” AP U.S. History teacher Brian Erskine said. “You could see Norris from where Sarah and I had an apartment and people jumping out of the third story windows to get away. I think one of the images that has stuck with me still is the blood. I never saw the crime scene itself, and I don’t think I’d want to, but there was a lot of blood.
“This one girl, she jumped out of the second floor window, and I don’t know if it was her blood or somebody else’s, but she ended up telling a story of just playing dead so that Cho wouldn’t shoot her again. The cops come out of that building looking as if they are in total shock, like somebody who has been through a war of some kind.”
On Feb. 17, the University of Texas decided to allow students to concealed carry handguns on campus following the state’s new gun policies, which will go in effect Aug. 1, 2016. The university was also the site of a tragic school shooting in 1966 when Charles Whitman killed 14 people in a shooting rampage from the university clock tower, after earlier killing his wife and mother, before finally being fatally shot by an Austin police officer. The campus carry at UT has been a source of controversy, with some wondering if a widespread presence of concealed handguns at secondary schools is next. Erskine said his experiences lead him to personally support teacher carry.
“Having been at Tech on April the 16th, if one of my friends had had a gun, those people wouldn’t have died,” Erskine said. “There was a campus of 40,000 people. The only person on campus was a police officer who was probably eating donuts somewhere, and if one of my friends, or one of those teachers had a gun, not only would Cho probably not have killed those people, but he may not even have tried. Most people who are homicidal maniacs would prefer not to die themselves, and the simple knowledge of knowing somebody’s gonna shoot back at you will stop them almost every time.”
Currently, 18 states allow adults to carry loaded guns onto school grounds. In Texas, authorized individuals, such as military police officers and special criminal investigators are allowed to carry on campus, but the list of said authorized individuals is short. Junior Dylan Elkins said he would agree with teachers carrying guns, as long as there are checks in place.
“If they pass an additional psychological evaluation, I think it could be a good idea,” Elkins said.
Others disagreed, as the idea of having a gun at a teacher’s disposal seems like too much when dealing with students.
“I feel like it would be a terrible idea,” AP English Language teacher Jasen Eairheart said. “That would scare me. There’s a lot of crazy teachers out there. I’d be more scared for the students than anybody else. Maybe limit it to administrators? I don’t know.”
Junior Elizabeth Howell thinks that teacher carry is a good idea, but should be on a case-by-case basis.
“It depends on the teacher,” Howell said. “I think they should have a license and training, but I would feel safer knowing I was protected by a trusted adult with the proper training.”
If teacher carry ever was established, there would be a lot of necessary hoops to jump through.
“There are two school districts here in Texas that are now allowing concealed carry,” Erskine said. “The teachers have to go not just to the state certification classes, but they have to go to police officer-held additional classes on conflict escalation and a lot of hoops.”
Even then, Eairheart is skeptical.
“I am definitely OK with defending yourself, but it’s just one of those things that you really, really hope for the best that something is not going to exist here,” Eairheart said. “When I was at [Richardson] Berkner, a kid opened his locker and a gun fell out onto the floor, so I know it happens, that it exists there, but school is not the place for firearms.”
Erskine, however, said so-called “gun-free zones,” such as schools and most colleges, are more harmful than good.
“There was zero deterrent (at Virginia Tech). We were fish in a barrel, and still are, to be honest,” Erskine said. “Gun-free zones only work for people that follow the law. If you want to hurt somebody, you’re not gonna say, ‘Oh gee golly, this is a gun-free zone, I better do it outside.’ That’s silly.”
Colorado State Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, concurs that gun-free zones do not work, and the Columbine survivor is now trying to pass a bill that would allow teachers to carry.
“People are not deterred by some flashy sign on a door,” Neville told The Daily Signal. “If we have a law like this, it’s going to make [criminals] find a different target instead of our schools, where we have our most vulnerable among us.”
But the President of the National School Safety and Security Services Kenneth S. Trump disagrees, stating that the only one that needs to have a gun on a high school campus would be a School Resource Officer. Eairheart agrees that teachers should not carry.
“In the end, I would have to say no,” Eairheart said. “I wouldn’t want that. I feel that there is a heavy possibility of it causing more problems. I know that it sounds facetious and sarcastic, but I’m not. I think you would have some teachers use it as open threats. Teachers are humans too, and make mistakes, and that would be a terrible, awful one you couldn’t recover from.”
Administrator and Principal Chris Mayfield agrees that only SROs should carry.
“My understanding is that the major influence on recent legislation regarding teachers/staff carrying guns was because in rural areas there can be a significant lapse in time between a call to police and when they might arrive,” Mayfield said. “With our having an on-campus SRO, we don’t have a need for that.”
At a school board meeting earlier this year, one parent, Kent Starr, made some public comments on the possibility of administrators carrying firearms, according to board minutes. Starr could not be reached for comment, but Mayfield said he prefers the security plan in place now.
“Personally, I would not feel comfortable carrying a gun at school,” Mayfield said. “I am comfortable with our law enforcement officers carrying a gun, but am not comfortable with other individuals (outside of law enforcement) bringing guns on campus.”
In fact, Mayfield noted that security at Lovejoy has increased over the past year.
“We have a good campus security plan and have done some things over time to continue improving in that area,” Mayfield said. “Two noteworthy additions are our after-hours receptionist and our parking lot attendant. Both give an additional level of security and monitoring of LHS.”