Gun Free M-A-C

Proposed bill to allow guns in school parking lots is impractical, counterproductive

Charlie Holden

Cartoon by Charlie Holden.

In the first four months of 2017, there have been 14 school shootings, resulting in nine injuries and four deaths, according to the nonprofit research organization Everytown for Gun Safety. Four of these shootings were unintentional, meaning the shooters accidentally discharged their firearms. The other 10 shootings, including one suicide, were intentional. Texas state representative Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) wants to reduce these numbers by passing House Bill 1692, which would allow “licensed individuals to store a firearm in a locked car that is parked in a school parking lot.”

The idea for this bill came from a high school teacher from Mount Pleasant Independent School District, who contacted Hefner with concerns that after working late, he had no way to defend himself in his school’s parking lot. In 2011 Senate Bill 321 was passed, “prohibiting employers from restricting their employees from storing lawfully possessed firearms in their vehicles parked in their employers’ parking lots.” Senate Bill 321 made an exception for school employees, however, so teachers currently do not have any legal right to store their guns anywhere on campus. House Bill 1692, which would eliminate this exception, would increase instances of gun violence on school campuses, defeating the intended purpose of the bill: to keep employees safe.

As assistant editor of The Shield, it is my job to help see the newspaper through from conception to print. With a staff of just over a dozen students who double-dip as writers and designers, there’s a lot for each person to do. This means that on the final production days for each issue of The Shield, I routinely stay at school up to eight hours after the final bell rings (for those of you who are wondering, that’s 12:30 a.m.). McCallum tends to be an inviting place most days of the week, but once the sun goes down and the parking lots empty out, the story changes. Walking past the baseball fields or down the main hallway so late at night makes me feel eyes on my back, so I understand what that unnamed Mount Pleasant teacher feels whenever he makes the long walk from his classroom to his car. I understand, but I also know that having a gun waiting for me in my car would not make me feel any safer.

House Bill 1692 would require school employees to lock their cars with guns stored in them, but breaking into cars isn’t as hard as it looks; in fact, it is a fairly easy thing to do. During his 25 years as a teacher, newspaper adviser Dave Winter has had his car broken into three times—twice in Georgia and once in California—each time parked on a school campus. It’s not unheard of, and the last thing you want is for the tool you use to protect yourself to be turned against you. Even the most responsible gun owner cannot control the actions of irresponsible members of the public.

Legalizing guns in school parking lots also opens the door for guns to be permitted anywhere else on campus. Why not the cafeteria? Why not the gym? Why not the office, or the classrooms or the courtyards? In almost every school, the teacher parking lot is the one closest to the school building, meaning that live ammunition could be only yards away from students sitting in class. Six of the school shootings so far in 2017 occurred in a parking lot, and three of those six occurred after fights broke out after school basketball games. Unfortunately, the possibilities of situations escalating beyond the control of school officials are limitless, and it only takes one shot fired to make a campus unravel into chaos. Many of these shootings occur in densely crowded areas, such as packed classrooms or hallways. Fighting guns with more guns is an option, but a bullet from the gun of someone who is licensed and trying to help can just as easily go astray and hit an innocent student or faculty member.

There is no doubt that owning and carrying a gun gives many people comfort, and comfort is a very valuable thing, but that is not sufficient reason to support an impractical bill. Imagine walking to your car after dark. From the moment you step from the safety of your school until the second you clip your seat belt, you are without comfort because you are unarmed. If you were to be attacked, if the unimaginable were to happen, how would you defend yourself? You could use the gun you’ve stashed in your glove compartment or your trunk, just like HB 1692 says you can, but only if your attacker allows you enough time to access your weapon. The presence of a gun at your final destination does not make the journey any safer.

The personal safety of teachers, students and school administration should be valued above the privileges of a few licensed gun owners. We cannot afford to consciously contribute to the growing gun violence crisis. If you’re afraid to be in your school parking lot at night, petition the school board for streetlights or cameras, or even do something as simple as move your car closer to the building before the sun goes down. Do whatever you need to do, but don’t put your community in danger. Keep your guns at home.