Packing for school: Guns on campus one year later
Ann Work Times Record News
Thursday, August 6, 2009
WICHITA FALLS — One year ago, David Thweatt made a decision so controversial and groundbreaking the story about it sped around the world.
The superintendent of the isolated Harrold Independent School District, about 30 miles northwest of here, made history last August when he and his school board decided to allow select teachers and staff members at the 110-student school to carry guns on campus — a first for Texas and the nation.
For Thweatt and his board, the decision was pure mathematics.
The school, which sits in the middle of a prairie, was too far from law enforcement for police to come in time to fend off would-be attackers. The students and staff would be safer if on-site, trained staff members were equipped to handle a crisis at a moment’s notice, they decided.
Thweatt had already installed a $100,000 state-of-the-art security system in the school. Now, arming certain unnamed school staff members by allowing them to strap a firearm under their clothing was the final flourish.
In the year since that historic decision, a gun was never brandished or fired at the school. There were no problems, Thweatt said.
However, one week after school began, police busted a methamphetamine lab set up in an abandoned house that sat 50 feet from the school property.
A deputy had peered inside and “saw something in the walls and windows and called for backup,” Thweatt said. “They made it to the abandoned house in 15 minutes. We had figured it would take 18 to 20 minutes in a typical situation.”
Had that been an armed intruder at his school, response time would have been too slow.
“We’re the first responders. We have to be,” Thweatt said. “We don’t have 5 minutes. We don’t have 10 minutes. We would have had 20 minutes of hell” if attackers had targeted the school.
Harrold students, who grew up on ranches and in the middle of the North Texas gun culture, were unperturbed by the school district’s new gun policy.
“The kids just laughed about it,” Thweatt said.
Thweatt himself is the son of a retired minister/missionary/teacher in Abilene and a 1978 graduate of Abilene High School and Hardin-Simmons University.
Too small for athletics, Thweatt spent his time at Abilene High focused on his studies, particularly interested in journalism.
He wrote music and played guitar in a Christian band on weekends and was active in his father’s nondenominational Abilene Fellowship ministry.
Thweatt drove a school bus for the Abilene ISD and occasionally worked as a substitute teacher to help fund his education, graduating in 1983.
In Harrold, media attention was fierce all year. He talked to reporters from as far away as Ireland and New Zealand; he participated on more than a dozen talk shows. The story continues to spread; recently he saw a write-up in a Jerusalem newspaper. Only Finland and Switzerland reporters ignored the story; they already have high gun ownership rates, he said.
“I had a lot of interviews from kids and college kids,” he said. “They needed to learn. I’m an educator,” said Thweatt, who is opinionated but patient in interviews.
“Would you stick a sign at a school that says, ‘No guns on this property’? Why wouldn’t you? It invites nasty people to come,” he said. “That’s what you’ve done to every public school in the nation. That’s why there were no shootings until Columbine. It’s turned into a dad-gum shoot fest.”
Thweatt took calls from “just a handful” of Texas districts considering the same policy, but he wouldn’t say if any other districts had modeled Harrold’s M.O.
According to Barbara Williams with the Texas Association of School Boards, Harrold remains the only Texas school district with a guns-on-campus policy.
“We’re not aware of any others,” she said.
However, when Harrold made its groundbreaking decision one year ago, she watched the story go as far as Malaysia. She was even called by the Dr. Phil show, who asked her to help plan a show on the topic because they were so fascinated by it. She refused.
To her, it was so obvious as to be a non-issue. Dr. Phil, who claims to be a Texan, should know that, she said.
“This is Texas. I have a magnet on my refrigerator of the state with a plastic gun glued to it that says, ‘We don’t call 9-1-1.’ We find that funny in Texas,” she said.
When a London reporter asked Thweatt to explain why so many kooks go into schools looking for a body count, Thweatt said he couldn’t explain such a devolution of society, but he did know a simple way to stop it — the same solution he chose for Harrold ISD.
“Good guys with guns — good,” he said. “Bad guys with guns — bad.”