In the first legislative session after a deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 dead and 13 others wounded, the Texas Senate on Monday advanced a bill that would abolish the limit on how many trained school employees — known as school marshals — can carry guns on campus.
Under the marshal program, school personnel whose identities are kept secret from all but a few local officials, are trained to act as armed peace officers in the absence of law enforcement. Currently, schools that participate in the program can only designate one marshal per 200 student or one marshal per building.
“School districts need to be able to tailor the school marshal program for their unique needs,” State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican who authored Senate Bill 244, said about the legislation last week. “SB 244 removes those limitations in statute on the school marshal program to accommodate the unique needs of districts across the state.
“Each individual district would be able to make those choices on what’s best for them.”
But advocacy groups such as Moms Demand Action immediately decried the legislation.
“I’m very concerned for the safety of our schoolchildren as lawmakers continue to pass bills that would aggressively increase how many of our children’s teachers are armed,” Hilary Whitfield, a volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement. “We all want to keep our schools safer, but adding guns to the problem is not the solution.”
The bill passed 20 to 10, with only Democrats opposed. But State Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, both sided with the upper chambers’ Republicans and voted in favor of the measure. The bill can now be sent to the Texas House for debate.
Former state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas-area Republican who authored the bill that created the Texas school marshal program, told The Texas Tribune that the cap on how many marshals can be on each campus was proposed by police groups that helped to create the legislation.
“The risk of having five officers in a single building and police coming to the scene is you begin to lose track of the good guys versus the bad guys,” he said. “The police were saying, ‘If we go to a scene and there are four non-uniformed individuals carrying guns and one bad guy, it’s very difficult for us to determine at the time in the heat of that moment the good guy from the bad guy.’”
“I’d be very careful,” about that proposal, Villalba said. “When you have multiple [marshals] in a single building, that could create some risks that are difficult.”
Villalba emphasized that he wasn’t against Creighton’s bill since he hadn’t read its full text, but said, “there’s a reason we had that number.”
Read related Tribune coverage
- Texas Senate passes bill allowing school marshals to carry, not lock up, their guns
- How Texas educators train before arming themselves at school
- Texas schools that want to arm their employees have two choices
The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.