Archive for December, 2012

posted by Charles L. Cotton on Dec 22

If you were to stop ten people on the streets of most cities and towns in Texas and ask them how they feel about “open-carry” the vast majority of them would have no idea what you are asking.  Some would probably think you were talking about walking down the street with an open beer in your hand, relating it in their mind to the Texas law against having open containers in a motor vehicle.  “Open-carry” for purposes of this article refers to legally carrying a self-defense handgun in a holster that it is not concealed from public view.

A significant percentage of Texas residents believe that open-carry is currently legal in Texas, but they are mistaken, except in a few locations.  One can openly carry a handgun on their own property, while engaging in sporting activities in which handguns are commonly used (ex.  hunting and shooting matches), and in their place of business or employment under certain circumstances.

Other Texans mistakenly believe that there is a law in Texas that specifically prohibits carrying handguns openly.  There is no law in Texas that specifically addresses open-carry except in the limited context of a Concealed Handgun licensee carrying a handgun.  (CHL’s must keep their handguns concealed.)  This distinction in the law is not merely trivia for your amusement; it is a critical factor in legislation that seeks to legalize the carrying of self-defense handguns openly.

Representative Lavender introduced an open-carry bill in the 2009 Texas legislative session, and he is fully expected to do so again in 2013.  Since this subject will again be raised in the Texas Legislature, it is this writer’s goal to provide useful information to my fellow Texans so they will not needlessly fear the concept of openly carrying a self-defense handgun.

History of Open-Carry in Texas

It will probably be helpful to briefly cover the history of open-carry in Texas before getting into the issues that have arisen in the past and that we can expect to hear again in 2013.  Since shortly after the end of the Civil War, it is been illegal for Texans to carry handguns outside your home, except in very limited circumstances (see above).  In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed the first concealed handgun statute creating a system whereby Texans and nonresidents could obtain a Concealed Handgun License.  The statute requires everyone who carries a handgun under the authority of their Concealed Handgun License to keep their handgun concealed so it will not be seen by the general public.

It is also legal for Texans to have a handgun in their motor vehicle, or a motor vehicle under their control, without first obtaining a Texas Concealed Handgun License.  However, Texas law requires that persons carrying a handgun in their motor vehicle make sure that their gun is not in plain view.  So although Texas has never had a stand-alone law prohibiting open-carry of handguns, it has been illegal to do so either because of the general prohibition on carrying handguns, or due to the restrictions placed on concealed handgun licensees and motorists with handguns in their cars.

Licensed v. Unlicensed Open-Carry

People who are unfamiliar with the open-carry topic are likely to hear discussions about licensed open-carry vs. unlicensed open-carry and wonder about the difference.  (Some people refer to unlicensed open-carry as “constitutional carry.”) Licensed open-carry means that only people who hold a Texas Concealed Handgun License, or a license issued by another state that is recognized under Texas law, will be able to openly carry a handgun.  Unlicensed open-carry would allow all citizens who can legally possess firearms under both Texas and Federal law to openly carry a handgun.

This article will be dealing only with licensed open-carry since that is the bill that was introduced in the 2009 Texas Legislative Session and that is what is expected to be filed by Representative Lavender in the 2013 Texas Legislative Session.

Three Groups of People

Generally speaking, people who support, oppose, or fall somewhere in the middle, in terms of  open-carry in Texas, fall into three groups.  Some strongly support open-carry and these people tend to prefer unlicensed open-carry but will reluctantly acquiesce to requiring a Texas Concealed Handgun License in order to legally open-carry.  The number of people falling into this first group is unknown, but it is relatively small in comparison to the total Texas population.

The group of people who strongly oppose open-carry is small.  It is comprised primarily of law enforcement officers and people who support citizens carrying self-defense handguns, but who have strong reservations about the wisdom of openly carrying a self-defense handgun from a tactical viewpoint.  The vast majority of Texans have no strong feelings on either side of the issue, although there are some who fear that a poorly drafted open-carry bill could lead to large numbers of businesses posting their property as off-limits to anyone carrying a handgun, whether openly or concealed.

Common Claims and Allegations

Anyone taking enough interest in the open-carry issue to listen to the debates and read any of the Internet discussion boards are going to be faced with certain claims and allegations made by those on either side of the issue.  Most of the major claims and allegations are discussed below.

Americans Enjoy a Constitutionally Protected Right to Openly Carry Handguns

Many open-carry supporters claim that the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to openly carry a handgun without first obtaining a license.  These folks typically point to certain language in the Heller decision to support their position.

Appellate decisions, especially those issued by the United States Supreme Court, often contain language that does not directly impact the question at issue.  This language is called dicta and it cannot be cited as authority in any other cases.  However, dicta is valuable in that it gives some insight as to how the court will likely rule in future cases when this language is directly related to the ultimate issue in question.  Of course, this judicial hint may lose value if the makeup of the Supreme Court changes before a follow-up case is heard.

The bottom line is this; there is no United States Supreme Court decision recognizing a constitutional right to openly carry a handgun, either with or without a license.  There is a split of opinions in the courts of appeal in the federal system, with at least one recognizing that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does protect a right to carry a concealed handgun with a license.  There are other federal appellate courts that have held the opposite, so the stage is set for the United States Supreme Court to take a case dealing with citizens’ right to carry a self-defense handgun.  Hopefully, we will have a decision in the not too distant future and that it will recognize that a citizen’s right to self-defense exists outside one’s home.

Forty-four States Currently Allow Open-Carry

While this may be technically correct, it is somewhat misleading.  In many states where there is no law prohibiting open-carry, it simply is not done.  Often this results in law enforcement officers receiving so-called “man with a gun” calls forcing them to interact with citizens openly carrying handguns.  Sometimes this interaction is benign, sometimes it is not.

Often, what is technically legal is not actually done.  For example, it is technically legal to carry a long gun (rifle or shotgun) virtually everywhere in Texas.  However, if one were to throw their AR-15 over their shoulder and walk down Main Street in downtown Houston, Houston Police officers will make sure the experience was unpleasant.

Open-Carry is Necessary in Texas to Prevent People from Being Arrested for Accidentally Exposing Their Handgun

This is one of the more commonly stated reasons for passage of open-carry in Texas.  Reliance upon this argument by open-carry supporters is misplaced as Texas law is abundantly clear.  In order to violate the current statute, a concealed handgun licensee must intentionally fail to conceal their handgun.  Requiring only intentional conduct, rather than the typical standard of doing something “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly,” means that accidental exposure of a handgun does not violate Texas law.

Some open-carry supporters provide anecdotal claims that Texans have been wrongfully arrested for accidental exposure of their handgun.  Even if these claims are accurate, such incidences are few in number and passage of open-carry will not relieve the problem.  Any Texas peace officer who would arrest someone for unintentionally or accidentally exposing their handgun is abusing their authority and is arresting someone for an act that is clearly not illegal.  Any officer willing to do this would find it even easier to arrest someone who is openly carrying simply by claiming that they put their hand on their handgun thus violating the Texas Disorderly Conduct statute.

Open-Carry Deters Crime

Some will argue that citizens openly carrying handguns will reduce crime in Texas.  The argument is that the sight of an armed citizen will deter someone from committing a criminal act.  Unfortunately, there is no empirical evidence to support this claim.  While it is possible that open-carry would have a positive impact on the crime rate, it is highly unlikely.  All a would-be hijacker would have to do is simply wait until the armed citizen left, then commit whatever criminal act they originally planned.  This claim is further weakened by the acknowledgement that relatively few people will exercise the option to openly carry a handgun.

Anyone Openly Carrying a Handgun Will be the First Person Shot by Criminals

It is sometimes claimed that openly carrying a handgun makes one the primary target for criminals.  While this is undoubtedly true for some criminals, the fear is probably overblown.  All but a few criminals do not want a fight, they do not want to get caught, and they do not want to go to prison.  As mentioned in their preceding paragraph, all a would-be criminal would have to do is wait until the armed citizen  leaves the premises, then carry out the planned crime.

Open-Carry Will Increase Crime

This is an absurd allegation and thankfully only the most ardent anti-gun activists make this false claim.  As previously noted, the bill that will be introduced by Representative Lavender would allow open-carry only by Texas concealed handgun licensees.  CHL’s have a sixteen year track record that is the envy of the entire nation.  Over the last four years, Texas CHL’s are fifteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general population in Texas.  There is no basis to argue that these people would constitute a threat to public safety simply because they exercised the option to openly carry a self-defense handgun rather than conceal it.

People Wanting Open-Carry Are In-Your-Face Cowboys

Some Texans fear that the only people who would actually carry a handgun openly are those who want to draw attention to themselves, who are potentially confrontational, and simply want to present a tough-guy image.  While this claim is probably overblown, YouTube videos are available on the Internet of people in other states intentionally making a show of the fact that their openly carrying a handgun.  The same people often appear to be baiting police officers attempting to create an incident that will allow them to later claim police harassment.

Incidents like those described in the preceding paragraph seem happen more often in states that allow unlicensed open-carry.  There is every reason to believe that Texas CHL’s will behave as responsibly if open-carry passes, as they have for the preceding sixteen years.  While there may be some such instances, they are likely to be few in number and very infrequent.

Open-Carry Will/Won’t Result in More Businesses Posting No Trespassing Signs

This is probably the single biggest issue that causes friction between the most ardent supporters of open-carry and people who currently hold a concealed handgun license.  Open-carry supporters point to the experience in other states as evidence that there will not be a rash of “no guns” signs.  Those who are concerned about this issue fear a repeat of what happened in Texas from the passage of the initial CHL statute in 1995 until the law was changed in 1997.

The reality is no one can be certain if the sight of people openly carrying handguns will prompt businesses to post “no guns” signs are not.  However, with a carefully drafted bill such as the one Representative Lavender envisions, safeguards can be in place that will protect the interests of CHL’s who are concerned about losing the ability to carry into businesses that currently do not prohibit their entry with a handgun.

Criminals Will Have Access to More Guns by Mugging People Openly Carrying Handguns

This seems to be another argument primarily from those considered to be anti-gun overall.  There is no empirical evidence to indicate this is a problem in states in which open-carry is actually practiced.  As noted elsewhere in this article, criminals want compliant victims, not gun flights, so it is highly unlikely the criminal will confront someone they know is armed.


I have no idea if open-carry will pass during the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, but it is highly likely that it will pass at some point in the future.  Texans should feel secure in the knowledge that the people they will see openly carrying handguns are members of the most law-abiding and trustworthy segment of society.  This is not conjecture or hyperbole, it is a fact based upon an astounding sixteen year track record earned by CHL’s.

If open-carry does pass, it is incumbent upon those Texans exercising this option to be extraordinarily polite and courteous so as to allay the fears of those who, for the first time in their lives, will see people openly carrying handguns.  For sixteen years, our fellow Texans have been walking with, sitting next to, and eating among, hundreds of thousands of armed, law-abiding CHL’s.  Those choosing to openly carry a handgun should view themselves as ambassadors for those Texans who chose to continue to conceal their self-defense handguns.

posted by Charles L. Cotton on Dec 20

Charles L. Cotton photoHistory of Concealed Handgun Licensees in Texas

The time has come for the Texas legislature to reduce the number of locations that are “off-limits” to holders of a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL).  At the time Senate Bill 60 passed in 1995, it was considered by some as both a revolutionary and radical concept.  This opinion was even by some of the Bill’s supporters in the Texas Legislature.  Due to this uncertainty, SB 60 contained many provisions that were ultimately determined to be unnecessary.  These provisions included the designation of various locations as being off-limits to CHL’s carrying self-defense handguns.

The media-created hysteria that followed the passage of Texas’ first CHL’s statute in 1995 resulted in thousands of Texas businesses posting generic “no guns” decals.  Typically, they were either 2“X2” or 3”X3” clear decals placed on the lower corner of the business’ door.  The decals were easily missed by a CHL holder meaning they would unwittingly enter posted property.

Beginning with the 1997 Texas Legislative Session, the Texas CHL statute has been systematically amended to remove many of the unnecessary provisions.  A critical change came with the passage of HB 2909 in 1997.  This Bill made a number of amendments to Texas law, including the creation of Texas Penal Code Section 30.06 that established strict criteria to be followed by anyone wishing to exclude a CHL from their property.  As a result, very few businesses posted what became known as the “big ugly sign” greatly reducing the number of locations that were off-limits to CHL’s.

Over the following 15 years, the Texas concealed handgun license statute became a non-issue.  Texas was not reduced to a ghost town, there was no blood in the streets, and all of the other parade of horribles fervently preached by the news media did not come to pass.  Texans learned that CHL holders did not pose a threat to their safety and Texas peace officers have come to view the Texas Concealed Handgun License as a “good guy card.”

CHL’s Excellent Track Record

The Texas Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) publishes data setting out the conviction rates for the general public in Texas as well as CHL’s.  For several years, this writer has used this and other data to create a statistical analysis comparing crime rates on an annual basis.  The sixteen year track record achieved by Texas CHL’s is astounding.  Every year since SB 60 was passed in 1995, CHL’s have been far less likely to commit a crime than is the general public in Texas.  Over the years, this already excellent track record improved dramatically to the point that CHL’s are almost sixteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public in Texas.  Not only is this an astounding statistic, it is far better than that achieved by Texas law enforcement.

Off-Limits Areas

Most Texans are aware that Texas peace officers can carry their handguns virtually everywhere in the State, whether they are on duty or off duty.  Understandably, most people do not have a problem with having very few off-limits areas applicable to peace officers, but they are unaware of the large group of people who are classified as “peace officers” under Texas law.  A full discussion of the people that are legally defined as “peace officers” is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say it is far more than police officers, deputy sheriffs, and constables.  (For more information, go to

Peace officers are not the only Texans who enjoy very few off-limits areas.  Parole officers, juvenile probation officers, community supervision officers, judges  (including city/municipal court judges and J.P. Court judges), district and county attorneys and their attorney employees are all treated as though they were peace officers in terms of where they can and cannot carry their handguns.  It is enlightening that many of the above-referenced people enjoy reduced off – limits locations only if they also have a Texas Concealed Handgun License.  So it is not their job title that reduces the number of off-limits locations, it is the combination of their job title and the fact that they have a CHL.

Time to Level the Playing Field for All Texas CHLs

We are no longer dealing with an unknown quantity as we were sixteen  years ago when SB 60 passed in 1995.  We have the benefit of the sixteen  year track record that clearly proves all Texas CHL holders are trustworthy, not merely those who happen to be judges or attorneys.  Indeed, CHL’s have proven themselves far less likely to commit a crime than even peace officers who are subject to a very few off-limits restrictions.

There is no compelling reason to exclude CHL’s from most of the existing off-limits areas; indeed, thousands of CHL holders who are not peace officers are legally allowed to carry in those areas under current Texas law.  For sixteen years, it has been the public policy of this State to empower honest, law-abiding citizens who have obtained a Texas Concealed Handgun License to carry a self-defense handgun to protect themselves and their loved ones.  In 1995, it was unknown how well this program would work, so the list of off-limits locations was unnecessarily long.  Now that we have proof that Texas CHL’s are the most law-abiding Texans, it is time to extend that public policy by reducing the number of off-limits locations applicable to CHL’s.

A proposed bill is under consideration and may be filed during the 2013 Texas Legislative Session.  If the bill passes, locations that are off-limits to CHL’s will be reduced, but they still will not be able to carry in bars (51% locations), while intoxicated, or in locations that are made off-limits by federal law.  Private property owners will still be able to prevent CHL’s from carrying a concealed handgun on their property, pursuant to Texas Penal Code Section 30.06.

Over the years during discussions of off-limits locations, one would often hear the question asked, “why would you need a gun in _____________[?].”  That question misses the mark because it ignores the area between the CHL’s car in the off-limits locations.  For example, I seriously doubt that my wife  would ever need to use her self-defense handgun while watching a Houston Texans football game in Reliant Stadium.  However, over the years there have been several people murdered, assaulted,  robbed and raped in the parking lot surrounding Reliant Stadium, so she could well need her handgun going to and from her car.  The question should not be “why would you need a handgun,” it should be “is there a compelling reason to exclude handguns?”  In view of the excellent track record CHL’s have earned over the past sixteen years, the unequivocal answer is “no.”

We must also remember that every time a CHL is forced to remove his or her handgun and leave it in their car, we are increasing the likelihood that a criminal will see the CHL disarming and will target that vehicle for a burglary.  It is ironic that the greater the likelihood of this happening, the more likely the CHL would need their handgun walking to and from the off-limits location.


The fear of the unknown that existed sixteen  years ago and prompted the creation of numerous off-limits areas applicable to Texas CHL’s no longer exists.  Empirical evidence proves that Texas CHL’s are honest, law-abiding responsible citizens who have earned our trust.  Every time we require a CHL to remove their self-defense handgun before entering an off-limits location, we are rendering defenseless the most law-abiding of our citizens.  It is time to recognize CHL’s for their outstanding record over the last sixteen years and give them equal standing with other CHL’s who have been singled out for preferential treatment.

posted by Charles L. Cotton on Dec 19

Charles L. Cotton photo

A bill has been prefiled for the 2013 Texas legislative session that seeks to reduce the minimum required class hours to obtain a Texas Concealed Handgun License (“CHL”) for the first time.  Current law requires these initial classes to be at least ten hours and no more than fifteen hours long.  Renewal classes must be between four hours and six hours long.  Both the four hour and ten hour minimums include the time spent on the range for the shooting portion of the class.

If it passes, HB 47 will reduce the class time for an initial license to four hours, excluding the time spent on the range.  Public support for this change seems to be strong and as of the writing of this article, there seems to be no significant opposition in the Texas legislature.  Few people have spoken against the change and their opposition is unwarranted.

That few people opposing HB 47 express concern that the material cannot be taught in only four hours.  Some even go so far as to argue that reducing class hours will have a detrimental effect on public safety.  Thankfully, people with these concerns can rest easy; Texas CHL instructors have been teaching the material in four hours for over fourteen years now.

Although the minimum time required for a CHL renewal class is four hours, the Texas Dept. of Public Safety requires instructors to administer the same test to renewal students as is given to initial students taking a ten hour class.  Since instructors have to administer the same test to new and renewal students, they have been teaching all of the statutorily-required subjects in four hours since 1998.  (The first CHL’s issued in 1996 were only good for two years, meaning the renewal process started in 1998.)  In fact, the current four hour renewal classes include the time spent on the range for the shooting portion of the class.  HB 47 establishes a four hour class for new and renewal students, but this does not include the time spent on the range.  So HB 47 and actually provides more time for classroom instruction, than is currently available for renewal students.

Unlike many states, the Texas legislature wisely chose to specify the specific subject matter that must be taught in Texas CHL classes.  Those of us who have been involved in passing the initial CHL statute in 1995 and the numerous improvements made in virtually every Texas legislative session since then, knew from the beginning that the material could be taught in far less than the ten hours mandated for an initial class.  Nevertheless, it was necessary to include time limits to prevent regulatory authorities from requiring ridiculously long classes running anywhere from two days to two weeks long.

Since instructors have been teaching the statutorily-mandated material to renewal students in less than four hours (remember, range time is currently included in the four hour classes), they obviously must add six hours of filler when teaching the ten hour initial class.  Depending upon the competency of individual instructors, some of the six hours of material added as filler may be excellent, but it is unnecessary to meet the legislative goal of teaching the mandated subject matter.  Forcing Texas gun owners to sit through a ten hour class to learn the same material that is taught in four hours to renewal students 1) is unnecessarily time consuming; 2) inflates the cost of obtaining an initial CHL; 3) increases student fatigue that hinders learning and retention; and 4) encourages Texans to obtain concealed carry licenses from other states with shorter class requirements.

Those who have expressed safety concerns can rest easy as well.  As previously noted, Texas CHL holders have been taking four hour classes since 1998 and over that time period they have garnered a track record that is nothing short of amazing.  Based upon data published by the Texas Dept. of Public Safety and census data, Texas CHL’s are fifteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public in Texas.  This track record is far better than that established by Texas peace officers.  Fourteen years of experience with four hour classes proves that reducing the initial class from an unnecessarily long ten hours to four hours can be done without any negative impact on public safety.

Some CHL instructors have complained that reducing the initial class from ten hours to four hours will have a detrimental impact on their revenue, because they cannot charge as much for four hour classes as they charge for ten hour classes.  There are two problems with this argument.  First, we are dealing with a constitutional right so the state is obliged to use the least restrictive methods possible when granting the Texas Concealed Handgun License.  Fourteen years experience with four hour classes proves that ten hour classes do not meet that obligation.  Secondly, it is highly likely that many more Texans will obtain a CHL when their investment in terms of time as well as money is significantly reduced.  This is a win-win for Texas gun owners and CHL instructors alike.

Ten hour initial classes are an unnecessary burden on Texas gun owners.  Representative Flynn deserves our support in our heart-felt thanks for introducing this much needed legislation.  Let your Representative and your Senator know that you support HB 47 and you want them to do so as well.

posted by Charles L. Cotton on Dec 18

Charles L. Cotton photoThe mass murder of twenty first grade children and six adults in Newtown Connecticut was a tragedy beyond comprehension.  Unfortunately, the news media is unintentionally increasing the odds that a copycat mass murderer will duplicate the massacre in another school.  Since the Newtown shootings on Friday, December 15, 2012, at least three people have been arrested for threatening to enter schools and kill students and faculty.  How many more are watching the unending television coverage of this event and dreaming of their “15 minutes of fame?”

Let me say up front that I am not a mental health professional.  However, as an attorney for many years and as a former police officer, I have dealt with numerous mentally unstable people.  A shared belief with a large percentage of these people is that society, or some identifiable segment thereof, has treated them unfairly.  The majority of these folks did not exhibit any tendency towards violence or revenge, but a few made it clear that they felt some form of retribution was an order, even though they stopped short of making actual threats.  The bitterness and antisocial behavior seems to be more prominent in people who feel they are ignored or belittled by the society they have come to fear or despise.

My experience is consistent with information provided by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in response to prior mass murders at schools, movie theaters, and shopping malls.  The combination of feelings of rejection and/or ridicule coupled with feelings of inadequacy is potentially deadly.  Many of these people feel that they have nothing to live for and a small percentage of them want to make society take notice that they exist.  In their demented minds, the best way to accomplish that is to slaughter innocent people.  They believe that becoming a mass murderer will ensure that they have more than merely 15 minutes of fame.  Indeed, the higher the body count and the more innocent and defenseless the victims, the more television coverage they will enjoy.  Their names and faces will be on televisions and newspapers worldwide.

While the news media does not intend to encourage copycat killers by the extensive media coverage provided such events, they are fully aware of the facts set out in the preceding paragraphs.  Countless psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have previously been interviewed by the very networks and television stations that are currently broadcasting constant reports about the Newtown massacre.  During these interviews, the motivation for fame or merely recognition of their existence is commonly cited as the factor that triggered prior mass murderers.  While there is no “intent” in the legal sense, the media is knowingly engaging in actions that increase the likelihood that someone else will follow in Adam Lanza’s footsteps.

How many Adam Lanzas are sitting at home glued to their television watching the incessant media coverage of the Newtown tragedy?  How many realize that the level of society’s grief and the amount of media coverage is directly related to the age, innocence, and helplessness of the first grade children that were slaughtered?  How many will be prompted to launch their own murderous attacks and to target  elementary schools to gain the same level of infamy heaped on Adam Lanza by the media?

Many years ago the big three television networks viewed their newsrooms as public service operations.  Unfortunately, this philosophy changed and news broadcasts are also subject to Nielsen ratings.  With this change came the tendency not to merely report but to seek out the most titillating events that could be found.  This philosophy is not limited to the big three television networks any longer; it is pervasive throughout the media industry.

The sad truth is sex and blood sells and the media are willing to exploit society’s blood lust.  Oh, we shake our heads in disgust at the thought that ancient Romans would have made a sport out of gladiatorial combat or gruesome public executions in the Coliseum, but society is still intrigued by violent death.

Adam Lanza pulled the trigger but the media shares responsibility for the murder of 20 innocent children and six adults trying to protect those students.  Based on extensive media coverage of prior school shootings, there can be no doubt that Adam Lanza was aware that his actions were going to make his name a household word.

Let’s do something about this!  Light up the switchboards, web pages and Facebook accounts for every media outlet with demands to stop the media coverage that serves to encourage others to commit these heinous acts.  Let them know that the blood of the next child will be on their hands.

I wish I were naïve enough to believe that such actions would bring about a responsible change on the part of the American media.  Sadly, I know better but I can no longer sit back and do nothing while the media essentially conducts classes on how to become the next media darling.

posted by Charles L. Cotton on Dec 18

In the wake of the tragic Newtown massacre of 20 innocent first grade children and six adults, as a society we have to ask ourselves  “do we really want safe schools?”  The obvious answer is yes, but if we really mean it, then we must be ready to pass the necessary legislation and provide funding.

There are basically two ways to make our schools safer and each takes a dramatically different approach.  One amounts to the “gold standard” but it is incredibly expensive, while the other is less effective, but it is virtually cost-free.  If either of these methods are implemented, our precious children have a realistic chance of surviving the rampage of a would-be mass murderer.

Secured limited-access to school buildings

The first method involves truly securing school buildings such that unauthorized entry is virtually impossible.  To do this, every entry into a school building must be through double access doors.  These doors must contain bullet resistant glass that will withstand all 30 caliber rifle rounds with minimal damage and offering no opportunity to enter the building even when shattered.  These doors must also have high security locking mechanisms that are electrically controlled from a position inside the second door.  Standard commercial grade locks are not sufficient for this purpose.

The distance between the outer secured door in the inner secured door must be large enough to house metal detectors that everyone entering the building will have to pass through before being allowed to pass through the inner secured door.  Armed police officers must be stationed inside both the outer and the inner secure doors and the officer inside the innermost a secured door should also be armed with a 30 caliber semiautomatic rifle in the event the assailant is wearing body armor.

The procedure for entering the school would require that students, faculty and staff present their school identification cards to pass through the outer secured door.  Once within the secure buffer zone, each person would then go through metal detectors and their backpacks, briefcases, and any other packages would pass through an x-ray machine.  Once cleared, the officer manning the inner secured door can open the inner door to allow entry.  A faster alternative for larger schools would require the use of large revolving doors for the inner buffer zone that would allow more students to enter  each segment.  The doors would have to be constructed from the same bullet resistant glass and the officer guarding this door must be able to lock electronically by pressing a button.

The purpose of the two secure doors is to create an enclosed area that would serve both as a security buffer zone and as a deterrent to anyone who would attempt to enter the school with weapons.  If a would-be murderer were to gain access to the outer door by the use of a fake ID, or by following an authorized person and forcing his way in, he would be trapped in the security buffer zone.  The officer stationed within the security buffer zone should be able to neutralize the threat either by making an arrest or by engaging the armed intruder.  In a worst case scenario, if the officer is wounded or killed the armed intruder would be trapped and no escape would be possible.  While there could be innocent students, faculty or staffed also trapped, the number of potential victims would be greatly limited.  The close proximity of the potential victims to the assailant could also provide the opportunity for the assailant to be overwhelmed and disarmed, but this would hinge on the age and number of people within the buffer zone.

Double entry doors and a secure buffer zone are not the only changes that would be required.  Interior classroom doors need to be made of steel and they must be self-locking that can be opened from inside the classroom simply by pushing on a bar.   Entry from the outside will require a key or “smart card.”  The same bullet resistant glass must be in a window in the door, but it should be no more than 3 to 4 inches wide so that even if it were broken, the gap would be too small for an assailant to gain entry into the classroom.  Bullet resistant glass would also have to be used in all classroom windows and those windows could only be opened from inside the classroom.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that the above-described proposal is going to be shockingly expensive.  You are right, it will be incredibly expensive.  However, if the tragedy in Newtown is going to be the catalyst for discussion of school safety, then we need to discuss methods that can truly render our schools safe, not placebos such as gun control or mental health bogeymen.

Armed Teachers and Staff

The only other realistic alternative is to allow teachers and staff that have a concealed handgun license to carry handguns in school.  If the school opts to do so, it could provide additional training to teachers and staff wishing to carry handguns in school, so long as the school provides this training at no expense to its personnel.  It is quite likely that local police departments and sheriff departments will be more than happy to create training programs for such persons and provide the training at little or no cost to the school district.

Armed teachers and staff should be the last line of defense for the children, therefore reasonable steps should also be taken to secure the campus against unauthorized entry and the self-locking steel doors should be installed on each classroom.

Campus-Police Are Not Enough

Some will argue that it is not necessary to spend the millions of dollars required to create truly secure campuses as set out in the first alternative, or to authorize teachers and staff to carry handguns in school as set out in the second alternative.  The solution that will be offered is to simply require police officers to be present  in all schools.

While having police officers present is desirable, this alone is insufficient.  Schools that do have police officers  on campus typically have only one or two officers available to respond to threats.  This is insufficient even in a small school that has more than one entrance to the building and it is grossly inadequate in large schools that resemble junior colleges in their size and breadth.

Assuming the police officer is not killed attempting to protect students, it is quite likely that the presence of one or two officers will merely reduce the body count.  When we’re talking about our children, there is no such thing as an acceptable casualty rate.  If the lone officer is killed or incapacitated by the assailant, the students are defenseless and the tragedy at Newtown will be repeated.


We have a choice that must be made and it should be made during the 2013 Texas legislative Session.  We can accept the fact that school shootings are quite rare and do nothing.  Unfortunately, attacks on our schools may not remain rare in view of the extensive media coverage that actually encourages other would-be mass murderers to commit these atrocities to gain their a “15 minutes of fame.”  Regardless of the frequency however, to many Texans (this writer included) crossing our collective fingers and hoping for the best is unacceptable.

As noted previously, there are only two alternate methods of providing a reasonable level of security for our children.  The gold standard is to create a truly secure campus, but the cost of doing so will be staggering and beyond the financial capability of most school districts unless federal assistance is available.  Allowing licensed teachers and staff to carry handguns in school as they do everywhere outside of the school building, combined with self-locking classroom doors will establish a viable last line of defense for our children.

None of us like the idea of having to turn our schools into buildings that resemble a federal reserve bank or arming teachers and staff so they can prevent our sons and daughters from being butchered.  Sadly, for reasons not relevant to this article, this is the reality of the world in which we live.


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