Freshman state Rep. Jason Villalba has spent much of the past couple days scrambling to respond to the sudden media attention sparked by his announcement that he would file a bill for the coming legislative session allowing teachers to carry guns. He talked to the Morning News yesterday, and yesterday I heard him on KERA, on whatever radio station they were playing in the dentist's office and the Christmas station my wife insists we listen to in the car.
We got our chance to chat with Villalba yesterday afternoon. He began by stressing that the bill has been misconstrued to a certain degree by the media. "Now I've become the face of teacher-carry," he said, which isn't the case.
The confusion stems at least in part from the fact that there isn't actually a bill yet. What he's actually calling for, Villalba said, is more of a sky-marshal program for schools. School districts that opt in could select teachers or school administrators who, after undergoing an extensive background check, a thorough mental health evaluation, and an intensive weapons training program (the details are being worked out, but Villalba suggests it be two weeks and include state and local law enforcement officers), would be designated as marshals.
Marshals who spend the bulk of their day with children (e.g. teachers) would be required to lock their weapon in a secure location. Administrators and other school employees without classroom duties could be allowed to carry the weapon on their person.
"I think the benefit is, we reduce response times from minutes to seconds," Villalba said. By the time law enforcement arrives to a mass shooting, the damage has typically already occurred. "If we have someone on the campus to reduce the response time to less than 120 seconds, I think we have the possibility of saving life."
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He cites the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, who reportedly rushed at Adam Lanza, unarmed, in an attempt to stop him early in his rampage. Had she had access to a firearm, things might have turned out much differently, Villalba said.
Unlike their airborne counterparts, school marshals wouldn't actually be law enforcement officers, more like auxiliary police. He uses emergency medical care as a metaphor. Villalba, an attorney, can't walk into an emergency room and zap a patient with a defibrillator, but he is trained and certified to use one in other emergency situations. It's a life-saving device that, under ideal circumstances, is operated by a professional. But when there's no professional around, a highly trained volunteer can do the job.
There are of course limits to Villalba's metaphor. Arming school employees to do battle with a maniac on a rampage is different thing from providing medical treatment to someone suffering a heart attack. Heart attacks are common, for one, while gun rampages remain rare. And only one of those things involves deadly weapons. There's also the question, being debated frantically these days, of whether the presence of guns would actually make schools more dangerous rather than safer.
Villalba thinks not. He has a kindergartener in public school and would do nothing to jeopardize the child's safety, he said. Putting a gun in the hand of a "good guy," he said, is a reasonable step to take to protect children from the bad ones.