When the Sandy Hook school shootings occurred in December 2012, Jason Villalba had one toddler and one child in kindergarten. Like all parents, Villalba felt an urgent need to offer better protection for his kids. Unlike most parents, Villalba had just been elected to his freshman term in the Texas House.
Villalba authored a controversial bill that would allow for certain school officials to act as undercover marshals on school grounds. He spent a good part of the 2013 session ensuring its passage, and now the young law is entering its first trial period.
The first training class for about 20 school marshals begins today in Fort Worth. Villalba spoke with Unfair Park and clarified that the initiative stipulates the marshals' confidentiality to all but school leadership and local police force -- so don't expect any information on who the marshals are or which school districts are employing the service.
"What happened for me was that I saw what happened at Sandy Hook," Villalba told us. "In Connecticut they have the highest level of gun control, every student was economically privileged, and they had security at the school including locked doors. But an individual seeking to perpetrate some crime against children will not be deterred."
Initially it was thought that the marshal plan would benefit schools that are in remote locations, far away from local police stations. But Villalba said the marshal service will also be utilized by elementary schools in larger districts. While most large city school districts employ a permanent armed police officer for campus security, there is typically no such service for elementary schools.
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Villalba said that in authoring the bill, its proponents considered different tactics. "I wanted a way to protect my kids and all kids that go to school from that kind of crime. So we thought, 'How can we do this?' And we looked at different ideas. We looked at plans they have in Israel."
Israeli schoolhouse defense often allows for open-carry in the classroom. But Villalba said this possibility eventually dissipated, as seeing their child's sunny fourth-grade teacher with a pistol on her brightly patterned hip would likely to scare the crap out of some Texas parents.
Rather, marshal teachers can keep a firearm in a locked classroom safe or marshal administrators can carry a concealed weapon. Villalba noted that police officers already participate in open carry in several Texas high schools, and marshals will undergo similar police training. Marshals will also be subjected to a psychological examination and 80 hours of classroom instruction.
"In the three to five minutes it could take police to get there, you can do tremendous damage. So we wanted a line of defense that you could enact immediately," Villalba said. "Even if there is a risk, it's outweighed by the protection we're offering our kids."