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For Texas conservatives, armed teachers are a solution to school shootings

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For gun control activists, the programme is another step in the wrong direction in the United States.

PHOTO: AFP

HOUSTON (REUTERS) – Immediately after Tuesday’s (May 24) school shooting in Texas, conservative politicians reacted with another push for arming school officials to protect students – a notion that has raised strong objections among teachers, researchers and gun control activists.

“We can arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly, because the reality is we don’t have the resources to have law enforcement at every school,” Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton told Fox News on Tuesday.

Texas has already pioneered such training, the School Marshal Programme, which allows teachers and administrators to carry handguns after an 80-hour training at academies overseen by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

The programme was enacted in 2013 and expanded under Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican.

There are now 256 school marshals in Texas, up from 34 before a high school shooting in Santa Fe near Houston in 2018, the Commission said.

Mr Craig Bessent, assistant superintendent in Wylie Independent School District, was first trained in 2014 and, although the identities of marshals are usually withheld, he acts as a kind of programme spokesman.

“We have school marshals at every campus in our district, even pre-K. Some we have more than one,” said Mr Bessent from his office in Abilene west of Dallas, where the Wylie district has eight campuses.

“I do carry my handgun on me, in a concealed fashion. If we have to react like in an instance that happened yesterday, we’re always ready.”

In Tuesday’s shooting, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in the small Texan town of Uvalde 80 miles (130km) west of the city of San Antonio and about midway between there and the Mexican border.

But while Mr Bessent says marshals in his district have responded to “lots” of issues, including with upset parents, he stressed they see themselves as a “de-escalating” force and have never discharged their weapons.

For gun control activists, the programme is another step in the wrong direction in the United States, which is by far the most heavily armed society in the world and has a high gun death rate.

“The Attorney-General’s comments are yet another indication that the gun lobby lackeys ‘leading’ Texas will do literally anything to avoid addressing gun violence,” said Ms Shannon Watts, founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action.

The Texas State Teachers Association has opposed the school marshal programme, which was created in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Instead of adding more guns to schools they need to take more steps to keep guns out of schools,” said spokesperson Clay Robison.

Arming teachers is “ill-advised,” said Professor Denise Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, pointing to research that more availability of guns is likely to lead to more gun violence.

“These guns might be fired accidentally, the teachers who carry them might deliberately use them for unintended purposes, and, even more likely, the guns might end up in the hands of students,” said Prof Gottfredson.

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