AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A bill moving through the Texas Legislature would allow individual school districts to decide how school marshals must store or carry their concealed handguns.
One of the recommendations outlined in Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan was removing the firearm storage requirement for school marshals who are in direct contact with students. The list of recommendations was released after roundtable discussions and stakeholder meetings following the school shooting in Santa Fe. Current law always requires school marshals to store their concealed firearm in a secured and locked safe — the gun can’t be on the individual.
Craig Bessent, assistant superintendent and school marshal at Wylie ISD, has been a key voice on the school marshal program.
“Safety has always been the number one priority for the marshal program,” he said.
Senate Bill 406 passed the Texas Senate with a 28 to 3 vote in early April. The Texas House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee heard testimony on the bill Wednesday morning.
According to the bill analysis, the legislation would empower school districts to make school safety plans that address the unique needs and physical layouts of their individual districts and campuses. It would be up to the school board or another governing body of an open-enrollment charter school to decide if their school marshals can carry their concealed handgun.
With the program evolving over the last several years since its implementation, Bessent said giving districts more local control can help with the overall mission of safety.
“It’s up to that local school board to decide what’s best for that person that’s in that position, whether they keep it in a locked box all day, get it out and put it on before students get there, put it back once students leave,” he said.
Jerry Patterson, former Commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas and former state senator, said the intent isn’t to eliminate the use of a secured safe by school marshals, but to improve response times.
“A firearm that’s carried on the person is much more employable than one that’s locked in a safe,” he told lawmakers. “That’s a basic concept.”
“I recognize that any firearm that’s in anyone’s possession can have a bad outcome at some times, including a peace officer’s,” he added. “We have examples of peace officers leaving their firearm in the men’s restroom, being found by a student, but there is no 100 percent system.”
Rachel Malone, the Texas Director for Gun Owners of America, also told legislators the current law keeps everyone, including trained school marshals, from accessing a resource that could help with responding to shootings and other threats.
“The most appropriate place for a gun is a place where authorized people have access and where unauthorized people don’t,” Malone said.
However, some members of Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America worry the risk of accidents could be elevated if this bill passes and individuals are able to carry a firearm through the day. Molly Bursey taught at a middle school for more than a decade.
“It allows school teachers and staff to carry guns even if they have regular direct contact with students. Even while they are teaching, in a busy cafeteria or in the hallway during passing period,” she said.
Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, would rather see school safety efforts come in other methods.
“More guns in schools don’t make us safer,” she said. “I think there are only good intentions in this bill and for the people who support the bill. But we always focus on prevention, so what can we do to keep the guns out of the schools?”
She also worries about unintended consequences similar to what Bursey cited in her testimony.
“Teachers often get into confrontational situations, trying to split students who may get into a heated argument, wherever it may be, on the playing field,” she said. “It’s easy for a gun to just unintentionally fall down, for one person or another to get a hold of that gun who shouldn’t and for the gun to discharge unintentionally.”
Switzer pointed to other proposed ideas that she feels can improve school safety, such as a safe storage and public safety campaign and mental health resources for students.
The bill was left pending in the Homeland Security and Public Safety committee.