While mass shootings often set off a predictable chain of events and talking points, last week’s school massacre in Texas has turned the focus to a buzzword that took a backseat during the last few gun debates, in which the conversations revolved around bump stocks or new minimum ages for gun purchases. This time “hardened schools” is the theme, but the idea is taking on new contours and finding support from unlikely advocates.
The latest round of rhetoric began after 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, armed with a pistol and a shotgun, killed eight students and two teachers Friday at Santa Fe High School, outside Houston.
The idea of hardened schools has been discussed as far back as the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. But not everyone is debating the issue under any agreed-upon definition. Installing metal detectors, for instance, is a far less controversial measure than arming teachers, an idea that pro-gun rights advocates embraced enthusiastically in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February.
Gun control advocate Mark Kelly, whose wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, survived a 2011 shooting in Tucson, told Fox News Sunday that schools should “absolutely” be hardened, referring to metal detectors and restricted access areas. Kelly has in the past opposed the idea of arming teachers. But gun law reform remains his primary goal: “[We should] at the same time, make sure that that irresponsible person can’t get the gun in the first place,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
For Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a “hardened school” would mean reducing the number of school entrances and exits, arming teachers, and staggering start times, as he stated on CNN. In a press conference on the day of the shooting, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also mentioned “hardening” schools with safety personnel.
Patrick told ABC’s This Week, “We have our schools that are not hard targets.
We’ve done a good job since 9/11 of protecting government buildings, and airports and private buildings, but we have not done anything to harden the target at our schools.”
The NRA has a more drastic concept of hardened schools. Its task force report, published in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, lays out recommendations including a single point of entry into a school’s grounds; the use of fences, shrubs, and trees planted far from the building; ballistic glass windows and steel plating for entry point desks; as well as allowing teachers to carry guns.
In response to the Texas school shooting, NRA president Oliver North told Fox News Sunday, “If School Shield had been in place, [it’s] far less likely that would have happened.”
Some of those calling for hardened schools included survivors of the shooting. “If we had more guns on campus with more teachers armed, we’d be a lot safer,” said 17-year-old Santa Fe student Layton Kelly in an interview with the New York Times.
Santa Fe High School was already more hardened than many schools. It had two armed police officers and an active shooter plan. The school had won a statewide award for its safety plan. The district had agreed to eventually arm teachers and staff.
Some schools have already hardened since Friday’s shooting. Multiple Houston-area districts have ramped up security measures, from metal detectors to increased surveillance to campus officers. If the movement to harden schools continues on its current course, these measures could be signs of what’s to come for students throughout America.