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Doubling Down

Republicans Return to “Hardening” Schools as Their Solution to Shootings

What’s the answer to gun violence? More guns, naturally.

A close up of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Tom Williams/Getty Images
Schools should just have one door, suggested Texas Senator and noted solutioneer Ted Cruz.

It’s natural for people to push for solutions in the wake of tragedies that should be unthinkable; mass shootings at schools, while devastating, cannot be characterized as “unthinkable” when they occur with relative frequency. Some proposed solutions recur alongside these tragedies: One example offered by Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Twitter—the “hardening” of school security—is an increasingly common suggestion from Republicans. After the murder of 19 children and two adults in a Texas elementary school by a shooter with an assault weapon on Tuesday, some Republican lawmakers have renewed these conversations with ideas such as limiting ingress points in school buildings or arming the teachers working within their walls.

“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday. “We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my opinion, is the best answer.”

Such a program already exists, to an extent: the Texas School Marshals Program, which was created in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That program allows teachers and administrators to act as “school marshals,” entitled to carry firearms after completing 80 hours of a training course conducted by a law enforcement academy. (Reuters reports that the Texas State Teachers Association has opposed the program, arguing that the focus should be on taking guns out of schools.)

“Bringing more guns into schools makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to shield our students and educators from gun violence. We need fewer guns in schools, not more. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards,” National Education Association president Becky Pringle said in a statement following the shooting. Pringle and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, are expected to protest the opening of the National Rifle Association convention in Houston this weekend, The New York Times reported.

in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at a high school in 2018, the Texas legislature passed multiple bills aimed at hardening schools and expanding mental health resources. “We’re all going to go back and look at both exactly what was passed, any shortcoming in what was passed, [and] any shortcoming in implementation,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Wednesday.

The idea of hardening school security was met with some interest by Republicans in Congress on Thursday. “If individual school districts want to train the teachers to use firearms in that situation, then I think that’s something they can consider. We definitely need to harden the soft targets,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas told reporters. “That means you can’t just walk into the building willy-nilly.”

Details around the shooting on Tuesday remain murky; there was an armed security officer at the school, but law enforcement officials offered conflicting information about whether he exchanged gunfire with the shooter. An official said on Thursday that the shooter entered the school unobstructed. Parents on scene were so upset with police for not interceding on their children’s behalf that they had to be prevented from charging the school themselves, the Associated Press reported.

Cruz argued in favor of installing bulletproof doors and windows at schools. “Have one door into and out of the school, and have that one door, armed police officers at that door,” Cruz argued on Fox News.

GOP senators seemed more focused on the idea of making it more difficult for potential shooters to enter the building, before getting to the point of having teachers wielding firearms in the classroom. “I’d be OK with anybody that felt they were capable of having a weapon—I’d rather that doesn’t necessarily get to that—but if an administrator or teacher would be trained and willing, I wouldn’t be against it,” Senator Mike Braun told The New Republic on Thursday. “Mostly though, they ought to have the protection that you can’t enter a school.”

Republican Senator Rick Scott, who as governor of Florida signed legislation focused on ramping up school security in the wake of the 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, told reporters that there was “some logic” to Cruz’s idea, although he noted that “every school is set up so differently.” Florida also passed a law in 2019 allowing teachers to be armed.

Many Democrats appeared unimpressed with Republican overtures to hardening schools. “We don’t need more guns in the schools—there were security guards at the supermarket in Buffalo, police and security at the school in Uvalde,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday.

“Putting more armed adults in schools is not the answer,” Senator Alex Padilla said during a rally with Moms Demand Action and Everytown For Gun Safety, as well as other Democratic senators.

Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Thursday that he was “in favor of school security” but that red flag laws were a more effective way to prevent shootings. Senator Chris Murphy, the Democrat who has led bipartisan conversations on potential gun safety legislation in the wake of the Texas shooting, expressed openness to those discussions. Murphy will be engaging with Republican colleagues while the Senate is out of session next week to try to reach common ground on gun safety. (Some Republican lawmakers have signaled a willingness to consider passing red flag laws in the wake of the Uvalde shooting.)

“I’m very open to conversations about, you know, increasing school security. I’m not a fan of putting more guns in our schools, but I certainly want schools to be secure places. So I think that that should be part of our conversation,” Murphy said.