massacre of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., appears to be
profoundly swaying Americans’ views on guns, galvanizing the broadest support
for stricter gun laws in about a decade, according to a New York Times/CBS News
As President Obama tries to persuade a reluctant Congress to pass new gun laws,
the poll found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — think gun control
laws should be tightened, up markedly from a CBS News poll last April that found
that only 39 percent backed stricter laws.
The rise in support for stricter gun laws stretched across political lines,
including an 18-point increase among Republicans. A majority of independents now
back stricter gun laws.
Whether the Newtown shooting — in which 20 first graders and 6 adults were
killed — will have a long-term effect on public opinion of gun laws is hard to
assess just a month after the rampage. But unlike the smaller increases in
support for gun control immediately after other mass shootings, including after
the 2011 shooting in Tucson that severely wounded Representative Gabrielle
Giffords, the latest polling results suggest a deeper, and possibly more
In terms of specific gun proposals being considered, the poll found even wider
support, including among gun owners.
The idea of requiring background checks on all gun purchases, which would
eliminate a provision that allows about 40 percent of guns to be sold by
unlicensed sellers without checks, was overwhelmingly popular. Nine in 10
Americans would favor such a law, the poll found — including 9 in 10 of the
respondents who said that there was a gun in their household, and 85 percent
whose households include National Rifle Association members.
A ban on high-capacity magazines, like the 15- and 30-round magazines that have
been used in several recent mass shootings, was supported by more than 6 in 10,
and by a majority of those who live in households with guns. And just over half
of all respondents, 53 percent, said they would support a ban on some
After the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Tucson in 2011, polls
found that 47 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws.
“I’m from a rural area in the South, I grew up in a gun culture, my father
hunted,” Leslie Hodges, a 64-year-old graphic artist who lives in Atlanta and
has a gun, said in a follow-up interview. “However, I don’t believe being able
to have a gun keeps you from thinking reasonably about changes that would keep
someone from walking into a school and being able to kill 20 children in 20
seconds. I think that we can say, O.K., we want the freedom to have guns in this
country, but there are rules we can all agree to that will make us all safer.”
The poll also gave an indication of the state of play in Washington at the
outset of what is expected to be a fierce debate over the nation’s gun laws, as
the National Rifle Association and several members of Congress, particularly
Republicans in the House, have criticized the gun control measures that Mr.
Obama proposed Wednesday and have vowed to block them.
Americans said that they trusted the president over Republicans in Congress to
make the right decisions about gun laws by a margin of 47 percent to 39 percent,
the poll found.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, is viewed favorably by
nearly 4 in 10 Americans, the poll found. All told, 38 percent said that they
had a favorable opinion of the group, while 29 percent had a negative view and
the rest had no opinion. The N.R.A. was viewed positively by 54 percent of those
with guns in their homes.
But the group is deeply unpopular with people in households without guns, who
were twice as likely to have a negative view of the N.R.A. as a positive one: 41
percent of them expressed a negative view of it, while only 20 percent expressed
a positive one.
The survey underscored how common guns in America are: 47 percent of those
surveyed said that they or someone in their household owned a gun, and 31
percent had close friends or relatives who did. The top reasons cited for owning
guns were protection and hunting.
The national poll was conducted by land lines and cellphones from Jan. 11 to
Jan. 15, before the president announced his proposals to curb gun violence. It
surveyed 1,110 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three
Some gun owners, like Sally Brady, a 69-year-old retired teacher who lives in
Amissville, Va., explained in follow-up interviews why they would support some
restrictions on ammunition or more thorough background checks of all gun buyers.
“I see no reason for high-capacity magazines if you want to go hunting,” said
Mrs. Brady, an independent who owns a hunting rifle. “The purpose of hunting is
sport, and you don’t need a whole big bunch of bullets to shoot a deer or a
squirrel. If you’re that poor of a shot, stay out of the woods.”
Despite the higher support for stricter gun laws, many Americans do not think
the changes would be very effective at deterring violence. While most Americans,
53 percent, said stricter gun laws would help prevent gun violence, about a
quarter said they would help a lot.
Other steps were seen as being potentially more effective. About three-quarters
of those surveyed said that having more police officers or armed security guards
would help prevent mass shootings in public places. And more than 8 in 10 said
better mental health screening and treatment would help prevent gun violence.
Violence in popular culture is seen by a large majority of Americans, 75
percent, as contributing to gun violence in the United States, including about 4
in 10 who say it contributes a lot.
20-year-old man wearing combat gear and armed with semiautomatic pistols and a
semiautomatic rifle killed 26 people — 20 of them children — in an attack in an
elementary school in central Connecticut on Friday. Witnesses and officials
described a horrific scene as the gunman, with brutal efficiency, chose his
victims in two classrooms while other students dove under desks and hid in
Hundreds of terrified parents arrived as their sobbing children were led out of
the Sandy Hook Elementary School in a wooded corner of Newtown, Conn. By then,
all of the victims had been shot and most were dead, and the gunman, identified
as Adam Lanza, had committed suicide. The children killed were said to be 5 to
10 years old.
A 28th person, found dead in a house in the town, was also believed to have been
shot by Mr. Lanza. That victim, one law enforcement official said, was Mr.
Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza, who worked at the school. She apparently owned the
guns he used.
The principal had buzzed Mr. Lanza in because she recognized him as the son of a
colleague. Moments later, she was shot dead when she went to investigate the
sound of gunshots. The school psychologist was also among those who died.
The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation’s
second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the 2007 Virginia Tech
massacre, in which a gunman killed 32 people and then himself.
Law enforcement officials said Mr. Lanza had grown up in Newtown, and he was
remembered by high school classmates as smart, introverted and nervous. They
said he had gone out of his way not to attract attention when he was younger.
The gunman was chillingly accurate. A spokesman for the State Police said he
left only one wounded survivor at the school. All the others hit by the barrage
of bullets from the guns Mr. Lanza carried died, suggesting that they were shot
at point-blank range. One law enforcement official said the shootings occurred
in two classrooms in a section of the single-story Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Some who were there said the shooting occurred during morning announcements, and
the initial shots could be heard over the school’s public address system. The
bodies of those killed were still in the school as of 10 p.m. Friday.
The New York City medical examiner’s office sent a “portable morgue” to Newtown
to help with the aftermath of the shootings, a spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove,
confirmed late Friday.
Law enforcement officials offered no hint of what had motivated Mr. Lanza. It
was also unclear, one investigator said, why Mr. Lanza — after shooting his
mother to death inside her home — drove her car to the school and slaughtered
the children. “I don’t think anyone knows the answers to those questions at this
point,” the official said. As for a possible motive, he added, “we don’t know
much for sure.”
F.B.I. agents interviewed his brother, Ryan Lanza, in Hoboken, N.J. His father,
Peter Lanza, who was divorced from Nancy Lanza, was also questioned, one
Newtown, a postcard-perfect New England town where everyone seems to know
everyone else and where there had lately been holiday tree lightings with apple
cider and hot chocolate, was plunged into mourning. Stunned residents attended
four memorial services in the town on Friday evening as detectives continued the
search for clues, and an explanation.
Maureen Kerins, a hospital nurse who lives close to the school, learned of the
shooting from television and hurried to the school to see if she could help.
“I stood outside waiting to go in, but a police officer came out and said they
didn’t need any nurses,” she said, “so I knew it wasn’t good.”
In the cold light of Friday morning, faces told the story outside the stricken
school. There were the frightened faces of children who were crying as they were
led out in a line. There were the grim faces of women. There were the
relieved-looking faces of a couple and their little girl.
The shootings set off a tide of anguish nationwide. In Illinois and Georgia,
flags were lowered to half-staff in memory of the victims. And at the White
House, President Obama struggled to read a statement in the White House briefing
room. More than once, he dabbed his eyes.
“Our hearts are broken,” Mr. Obama said, adding that his first reaction was not
as a president, but as a parent.
“I know there is not a parent in America who does not feel the same overwhelming
grief that I do,” he said.
He called the victims “beautiful little kids.”
“They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings,
kids of their own,” he said. Then the president reached up to the corner of one
Mr. Obama called for “meaningful action” to stop such shootings, but he did not
spell out details. In his nearly four years in office, he has not pressed for
expanded gun control. But he did allude on Friday to a desire to have
politicians put aside their differences to deal with ways to prevent future
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, who went to Newtown, called the shootings
“a tragedy of unspeakable terms.”
“Evil visited this community today,” he said.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, described “a
very horrific and difficult scene” at the school, which had 700 students in
kindergarten through fourth grade. It had a security protocol that called for
doors to be locked during the day and visitors to be checked on a video monitor
“You had to buzz in and out and the whole nine yards,” said a former chairwoman
of the Newtown board of education, Lillian Bittman. “When you buzz, you come up
on our screen.”
The lock system did not go into effect until 9:30 each morning, according to a
letter to parents from the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, that was posted on
several news Web sites. The letter was apparently written earlier in the school
It was Ms. Hochsprung, who recognized Mr. Lanza because his mother worked at the
school, who let him in on Friday. Sometime later, she heard shots and went to
see what was going on.
Lieutenant Vance said the Newtown police had called for help from police
departments nearby and began a manhunt, checking “every nook and cranny and
Officers were seen kicking in doors as they worked their way through the school.
Lieutenant Vance said the students who died had been in two classrooms. Others
said that as the horror unfolded, students and teachers tried to hide in places
the gunman would not think to look. Teachers locked the doors, turned off the
lights and closed the blinds. Some ordered students to duck under their desks.
The teachers did not explain what was going on, but they did not have to.
Everyone could hear the gunfire.
Yvonne Cech, a school librarian, said she had spent 45 minutes locked in a
closet with two library clerks, a library catalog assistant and 18 fourth
“The SWAT team escorted us out,” she said, and then the children were reunited
with their parents.
Lieutenant Vance said 18 youngsters were pronounced dead at the school and two
others were taken to hospitals, where they were declared dead. All the adults
who were killed at the school were pronounced dead there.
Law enforcement officials said the weapons used by the gunman were a Sig Sauer
and a Glock, both handguns. The police also found a Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine.
One law enforcement official said the guns had not been traced because they had
not yet been removed from the school, but state licensing records or permits
apparently indicated that Ms. Lanza owned weapons of the same makes and models.
“He visited two classrooms,” said a law enforcement official at the scene,
adding that those two classrooms were adjoining.
The first 911 call was recorded about 9:30 and said someone had been shot at the
school, an almost unthinkable turn of events on what had begun as just another
chilly day in quiet Newtown. Soon, frantic parents were racing to the school,
hoping their children were all right. By 10:30, the shooting had stopped. By
then, the police had arrived with dogs.
“There is going to be a black cloud over this area forever,” said Craig Ansman,
who led his 4-year-old daughter from the preschool down the street from the
elementary school. “It will never go away.”
the Connecticut shootings was contributed by
Al Baker, Charles V. Bagli, Susan
Beachy, Jack Begg,
David W. Chen, Alison Leigh Cowan, Robert Davey,
Flegenheimer, Joseph Goldstein, Emmarie Huetteman,
Kristin Hussey, Thomas
Kaplan, Elizabeth Maker,
Patrick McGeehan, Sheelagh McNeill, Michael Moss,
Newman, Richard Pérez-Peña, Jennifer Preston,
William K. Rashbaum, Motoko Rich,
Ray Rivera, Liz Robbins,
Emily S. Rueb, Eric Schmitt, Michael Schwirtz, Kirk
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Cell phone text messages. Loudspeakers on towers.
Cameras that detect suspicious activity. Colleges and universities are
considering these and other measures in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech
massacre, seeking to improve how they get the word out about emergencies to
thousands of students across sprawling campuses.
The University of Washington in Seattle is weighing whether to use warning
sirens. Clemson University in South Carolina recently installed a similar system
for weather-related emergencies and now may expand its use.
''You're going to see a nationwide re-evaluation of how to respond to incidents
like this,'' said Jeff Newton, police chief at the University of Toledo.
Chuck Green, director of public safety at the University of Iowa, said school
officials were discussing a new outdoor warning system just a day before the
Blacksburg shootings. The technology would allow for live voice as well as
''We'd like the option to hit one button to reach large numbers of people at one
time,'' he said.
Virginia Tech officials did not send an e-mail warning about a gunman on campus
until two hours after the first slayings, drawing criticism that they waited too
long and relied on e-mail accounts that students often ignore.
''Would a blast e-mail have been the most effective tool in notifying people of
Monday's events?'' asked John Holden, a spokesman for DePaul University in
Chicago. ''Some of the coverage I'm seeing suggests that old-fashioned emergency
alarms or broadcast announcements would probably have been more effective.''
At many schools, officials want to send text messages to cell phones and digital
devices as a faster, more reliable alternative to e-mail.
''We have to find a way to get to students,'' said Terry Robb, who is overseeing
security changes at the University of Missouri.
The University of Memphis plans to build a system that will act as a schoolwide
intercom. Scheduled to be in place by this fall, the system will consist of
speakers mounted on three or four tall poles.
At Johns Hopkins University, officials installed more than 100 ''smart'' cameras
after two off-campus slayings. The cameras are linked to computers that detect
suspicious situations, such as someone climbing a fence or falling down, and
alert not only campus security but also Baltimore city police.
Using text messages would require students to provide personal cell phone
numbers -- an intrusion that many colleges and universities have until now been
reluctant to pursue, said Howard Udell, chief executive officer of Saf-T-Net
AlertNow, a Raleigh, N.C., company that specializes in campus security.
Cell phone numbers ''have to be as vital as your Social Security number,'' he
said. ''I don't think it's been a priority.''
The Virginia Tech massacre could bring about widespread safety reforms at
colleges and universities, much as the Columbine shootings in Colorado led to
security improvements at primary and secondary schools, Udell said.
''We're going to use lessons learned from Virginia Tech's tragedy as much as we
can,'' said Auburn University spokeswoman Deedie Dowdle.
Text-message alert systems are already in place at some schools, including Penn
State University, which started its program in the fall. The system has
transmitted 20 emergency messages since its start, ranging from traffic closures
to weather-related cancellations or delays.
At the University of Minnesota, 101 of the university's 270 buildings have
electronic access devices. A control center can selectively lock and unlock
doors, send emergency e-mail and phone messages, and trigger audio tones and
messages. Video cameras monitor 871 locations around the university and radio
networks link the university with police.
Despite the widespread safety reviews, nothing short of a total lockdown would
ensure the safety of campus communities, said Maj. Frank Knight, assistant chief
of police at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
''Stopping an individual with a weapon from getting on campus is nearly
impossible,'' he said. ''We can't ever guarantee the security of the campus 100
At Birmingham-Southern, a small private school in Alabama, campus police also
use less sophisticated methods: cars equipped with public-address systems and
even runners carrying messages.
Campus Police Chief Randy Youngblood said officers used car-mounted loudspeakers
during storms in recent years, and the system has been effective on the small
Associated Press writers Doug Whiteman in Columbus, Ohio;
Ben Greene in
Baltimore; Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C.;
The New York Times
By JOHN M. BRODER
Va., April 16 — Thirty-two people were killed, along with a gunman, and at least
15 injured in two shooting attacks at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on Monday
during three hours of horror and chaos on this sprawling campus.
The police and witnesses said some victims were executed with handguns while
other students were hurt jumping from upper-story windows of the classroom
building where most of the killings occurred. After the second round of
killings, the gunman killed himself, the police said.
It was the deadliest shooting rampage in American history and came nearly eight
years to the day after 13 people died at Columbine High School in Colorado at
the hands of two disaffected students who then killed themselves.
As of Monday evening, only one of the Virginia Tech victims had been officially
identified. Police officials said they were not yet ready to identify the gunman
or even say whether one person was behind both attacks, which wreaked
devastation on this campus of 36,000 students, faculty members and staff.
Federal law enforcement officials in Washington said the gunman might have been
a young Asian man who recently arrived in the United States. A university
spokeswoman, Jenn Lazenby, could not confirm that report but said the university
was looking into whether two bomb threats at the campus, — one last Friday, the
other earlier this month — might be related to the shootings.
The university’s president, Charles W. Steger, expressed his “horror and
disbelief and sorrow” at what he described as a tragedy of monumental
proportions. But questions were immediately raised about whether university
officials had responded adequately to the shootings.
There was a two-hour gap between the first shootings, when two people were
killed, and the second, when a gunman stalked through the halls of an
engineering building across campus, shooting at professors and students in
classrooms and hallways, firing dozens of rounds and killing 30. Officials said
he then shot himself so badly in the face that he could not be identified.
The university did not send a campuswide alert until the second attack had
begun, even though the gunman in the first had not been apprehended.
Mr. Steger defended the decision not to shut down or evacuate the campus after
the first shootings, saying officials had believed the first attack was a
self-contained event, which the campus police believed was a “domestic” dispute.
“We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur,” he said.
President Bush sent his condolences to the families of the victims and the
university community. “Schools should be places of sanctuary and safety and
learning,” Mr. Bush said. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt
in every American classroom and every American community.”
The Virginia Tech attacks started early in the morning, with a call to the
police at 7:15 from West Ambler Johnston Hall, a 900-student freshman dormitory,
as students were getting ready for classes or were on their way there.
Students said a gunman had gone room to room looking for his ex-girlfriend. He
killed two people, a senior identified as Ryan Clark, from Augusta, Ga., and a
freshman identified by other students on her floor as Emily Hilscher.
The shootings at the engineering building, Norris Hall, began about 9:45.
[Prof. Liviu Librescu and Prof. Kevin Granata were among the victims there,
Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the engineering science and mechanics department,
wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.]
One student described barricading himself in a classroom there with other
students and hearing dozens of gunshots nearby. Someone tried to force his way
into the classroom and fired two shots through the door that did not hit anyone,
the student said.
Scott L. Hendricks, an associate professor of engineering, was in his office on
the third floor when he heard 40 to 50 shots from what sounded like the second
floor. Mr. Hendricks said he had called 911, but the police were already on the
The police surrounded the building and he barricaded the door to his office.
After about an hour, the police broke down his door and ordered him to flee.
“When I left, I was one of the last to leave,” Mr. Hendricks said. “I had no
idea of the magnitude of the event.”
According to the college newspaper, The Collegiate Times, many of the deaths
took place in a German class in Norris Hall.
“He was just a normal looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout type
outfit,” one student in the class, Erin Sheehan, told the newspaper. “He wore a
tan button-up vest and this black vest — maybe it was for ammo or something.”
Ms. Sheehan added: “I saw bullets hit people’s bodies. There was blood
everywhere. People in the class were passed out, I don’t know maybe from shock
from the pain. But I was one of only four that made it out of that classroom.
The rest were dead or injured.”
Heavily armed local and state police officers swarmed onto campus. Video clips
shown on local stations showed them with rifles at the ready as students ran or
sought cover and a freakish snow swirled in heavy winds. The police evacuated
students and faculty members, taking many of them to local hotels. A Montgomery
County school official said all schools throughout the county were being shut
Many parents and students questioned the university’s response to the two fatal
shootings in Ambler Johnston Hall, suggesting that more aggressive action could
have prevented the later and deadlier attack.
“As a parent, I am totally outraged,” said Fran Bernhards of Sterling, Va.,
whose daughter Kirsten attends Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University, as it is formally known. “I would like to know why the university
did not immediately shut down.”
Kirsten Bernhards, 18, said she and countless other students had no idea that a
shooting had occurred when she left her dorm room in O’Shaughnessy Hall shortly
before 10 a.m., more than two hours after the first shootings.
“I was leaving for my 10:10 film class,” she said. “I had just locked the door
and my neighbor said, ‘Did you check your e-mail?’ ”
The university had, a few minutes earlier, sent out a bulletin warning students
about an apparent gunman. But few students seemed to have any sense of urgency.
The university’s first bulletin warned students to be “cautious.” Then, 20
minutes later, at 9:50, a second e-mail warning was sent, saying a gunman was
“loose on campus” and telling students to stay in buildings and away from
windows. At 10:16, a final message said classes were canceled and advised
everyone on campus to stay where they were and lock their doors.
Ms. Bernhards recalled walking toward her class, preoccupied with an upcoming
exam and listening to music on her iPod. On the way, she said, she heard loud
cracks, and only later concluded that they had been gunshots from the second
round of shootings. But even at that point, many students were walking around
the campus with little sense of alarm.
It was only when Ms. Bernhards got close to Norris Hall, the second of two
buildings where the shootings took place, that she realized something was wrong.
“I looked up and I saw at least 10 guards with assault rifles aiming at the main
entrance of Norris,” she recalled.
The Virginia Tech police chief, Wendell Flinchum, defended the university’s
decision to keep the campus open after the first shootings, saying the
information at the time indicated that it was an isolated event and that the
attacker had left campus.
At an evening news conference, Chief Flinchum would not say that the same gunman
was responsible for the shootings in the dormitory and the classrooms. He said
he was awaiting ballistics tests and other laboratory results until declaring
that the same person carried out both attacks.
He said accounts from students at the dorm had led the police to a “person of
interest” who knew one or both of the victims there. The police were
interviewing him off campus at the time of the shootings at Norris Hall. Chief
Flinchum said officers had not arrested the man.
“You can second-guess all day,” he said. “We acted on the best information we
had. We can’t have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day of the
Classroom buildings are not locked and dormitories are open throughout the day
but require a key card for entry at night, university officials said.
Chief Flinchum confirmed that police found some of the Norris Hall classroom
doors chained shut from the inside, which is not a normal practice. Some of the
people hurt there were injured leaping from windows to escape.
Virginia imposes few restrictions on the purchase of handguns and no requirement
for any kind of licensing or training. The state does limit handgun purchases to
one per month to discourage bulk buying and resale, state officials said.
Once a person had passed the required background check, state law requires that
law enforcement officers issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who applies.
However, no regulations and no background checks are required for purchase of
weapons at a Virginia gun show.
“Virginia’s gun laws are some of the weakest state laws in the country,” said
Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “And
where there have been attempts to make some changes, a backdoor always opens to
get around the changes, like the easy access at gun shows.”
Students are not allowed to have guns on the campus.
At Ambler Johnston Hall, where the first shootings took place, many if not most
students had left and those who remained stayed close to their rooms by late
Mr. Clark, the senior who was shot in the dorm, was a resident adviser who went
by the nickname Stack on Facebook.com, was well liked and was a member of the
university’s marching band, the Marching Virginians, students said. “He was a
cool guy,” said one fourth-floor resident.
The shootings unfolded in an age of instant messaging, cellphone cameras, blogs
and social networking sites like Facebook. As the hours passed, students who
were locked in their classrooms and dormitories passed on news and rumors.
In one cellphone video shown repeatedly on television networks, the sound of
dozens of shots can be heard and students can be seen running from Norris Hall.
The student who made the video, Jamal Albarghouti, a graduate student, said he
was already on edge because of two bomb threats on campus last week. “I knew
this was something way more serious,” he told CNN.
The shooting was the second in the past year that forced officials to issue an
alert to the campus.
In August of 2006, an escaped jail inmate shot and killed a deputy sheriff and
an unarmed security guard at a nearby hospital before the police caught him in
the woods near the university. The capture ended a manhunt that led to the
cancellation of the first day of classes at Virginia Tech and shut down most
businesses and municipal buildings in Blacksburg. The defendant, William Morva,
is facing capital murder charges.
The atmosphere on campus was desolate and preternaturally quiet by Monday
afternoon. Students gathered in small groups, some crying, some talking quietly
and others consoling each other.
Up until today, the deadliest campus shooting in United States history was in
1966 at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th-floor
observation deck of a clock tower and opened fire, killing 16 people before he
was shot and killed by the police. In the Columbine High attack in 1999, two
teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves.
The single deadliest shooting in the United States came in October 1991, when
George Jo Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the window of a Luby’s
cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., then shot 22 people dead and wounded at least 20
others. He shot himself in the head.
August 29, 2008
The New York Times
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
HARROLD, Tex. — Students in this tiny town of grain silos and ranch-style
houses spent much of the first couple of days in school this week trying to
guess which of their teachers were carrying pistols under their clothes.
“We made fun of them,” said Eric Howard, a 16-year-old high school junior.
“Everybody knows everybody here. We will find out.”
The school board in this impoverished rural hamlet in North Texas has drawn
national attention with its decision to let some teachers carry concealed
weapons, a track no other school in the country has followed. The idea is to
ward off a massacre along the lines of what happened at Columbine High School in
Colorado in 1999.
“Our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl,” said David
Thweatt, the schools superintendent and driving force behind the policy.
“Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the
illusion that the police are there to protect them.”
Even in Texas, with its tradition of lenient gun laws and frontier justice, the
idea of teachers’ taking guns to class has rattled some people and sparked a
Gun-control advocates are wringing their hands, while pro-gun groups are
gleeful. Leaders of the state’s major teachers unions have expressed stunned
outrage, while the conservative Republican governor, Rick Perry, has endorsed
In the center of the storm is Mr. Thweatt, a man who describes himself as “a
contingency planner,” who believes Americans should be less afraid of protecting
themselves and who thinks signs at schools saying “gun-free zone” make them
targets for armed attacks. “That’s like saying sic ’em to a dog,” he said.
Mr. Thweatt maintains that having teachers carry guns is a rational response to
a real threat. The county sheriff’s office is 17 miles away, he argues, and the
district cannot afford to hire police officers, as urban schools in Dallas and
The school board decided that teachers with concealed guns were a better form of
security than armed peace officers, since an attacker would not know whom to
shoot first, Mr. Thweatt said. Teachers have received training from a private
security consultant and will use special ammunition designed to prevent
ricocheting, he added.
Harrold, about 180 miles northwest of Dallas, is a far cry from the giant
districts in major Texas cities, where gang violence is the main concern and
most schools have their own police forces. Barely 100 students of all ages
attend classes here in two brick buildings built more than 60 years ago. There
are two dozen teachers, a handful of buses and a football field bordered by
Yet the town is not isolated in rustic peace, supporters of the plan point out.
A four-lane highway runs through town, bringing with it a river of humanity,
including criminals, they say. The police recently shut down a drug-producing
laboratory in a ramshackle house near school property. Drifters sometimes sleep
under the overpass.
“I’m not exactly paranoid,” Mr. Thweatt said. “I like to consider myself
Some residents and parents, however, think Mr. Thweatt may be overstating the
threat. Many say they rarely lock their doors, much less worry about random
drifters with pistols running amok at the school. Longtime residents were
hard-pressed to recall a single violent incident there.
Others worry that introducing guns into the classroom might create more problems
than it solved. A teacher tussling with a student could lose control of a
weapon, or a gun might go off by accident, they said.
“I don’t think there is a place in the school whatsoever for a gun unless you
have a police officer in there,” said Bobby G. Brown, a farmer and former school
board chairman whose two sons were educated at the school. “I don’t care how
much training they have.”
His wife, Diane Brown, added: “There are too many things that could happen. They
are not trained to make life-and-death-situation judgments.”
Mr. Thweatt declined to say how many teachers were armed, or who they were, on
the theory that it would tip off the bad guys. He also declined to identify the
private consultant who provided teachers with about 40 hours of weapons
Most critics question whether teachers, even with extra training, are as
qualified as police officers to take out an armed attacker.
“We are trained to teach and to educate,” said Zeph Capo, the legislative
director for the Houston Association of Teachers. “We are not trained to tame
the Wild West.”
Texas gun laws ban the weapons on school property. But the Legislature carved
out an exception allowing school boards to permit people with concealed handgun
licenses to carry their weapons. No local district had taken advantage of the
exception until the Harrold school board acted.
Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said the state’s
hands were tied. “We have really tried not to get involved in this,” Ms.
Ratcliffe said. “Frankly, it’s a matter of local control.”
Gun-control advocates say, however, that while the school district may be
complying with state gun laws, it appears to be violating the education statute.
That law says “security personnel” authorized to carry weapons on campuses must
be “commissioned peace officers,” who undergo police training.
“It seems to us not only an unwise policy but an illegal one,” said Brian
Siebel, a lawyer in Washington for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The school district has countered that teachers are not “security personnel” and
so do not need to become peace officers.
As a general rule, the seven school board members — a collection of farmers and
oil workers led by an ambulance medic — have referred all questions from
reporters to Mr. Thweatt. But one member, Coy Cato, gave a short interview. “In
my opinion, it is the best way to protect our kids,” Mr. Cato said. Asked if
others in the community shared his view, he said that he had not taken a poll,
but “I think so.”
Still, several residents complained that the board made little or no effort to
gather public opinion on the matter. Some said they did not hear about the plan
until reporters started asking questions about it in early August.
Mr. Thweatt said the board discussed the proposal for nearly two years and
considered several options — tranquilizer guns, beanbag guns, Tasers, Mace and
armed security guards — but each was found lacking in some way. “We
devil-advocated it to death,” Mr. Thweatt said.
That discussion went unnoticed by many parents.
Traci McKay, a 34-year-old restaurant employee, sends three children to the
school, yet said she had not heard about the pistol-carrying teachers until two
weeks before the start of the semester. She was stunned.
“I should have been informed,” Ms. McKay said. “If something happens, do we
really want all these people shooting at each other?”
Ms. McKay said Mr. Thweatt had yet to explain why a town with such a low crime
rate needed such measures. She is afraid, however, that her children might face
repercussions if she takes up a petition against the idea.
“We are pretty much being told to deal with this or move,” Ms. McKay said.
Five people were killed when a man opened fire in a classroom at Northern
Illinois University near Chicago on Thursday, including the gunman who killed
himself, CNN reported.
Here are some major shootings inside schools and universities around the world
in recent years:
March 1996 - BRITAIN - A gunman bursts into a primary school in Dunblane in
Scotland and shoots dead 16 children and their teacher before killing himself.
March 1997 - YEMEN - A man with an assault rifle attacks hundreds of pupils at
two schools in Sanaa, killing six children and two others. He is sentenced to
death the next day.
March 1998 - USA - At Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys
aged 13 and 11 set off the fire alarm and kill four students and a teacher as
they leave the school.
May 1998 - USA - In Springfield, Oregon, a student opens fire in Thurston High
School, killing two students and injuring 22. The boy's parents are later found
slain in their home.
April 1999 - USA - Two student gunmen kill 12 other students and a teacher at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, before killing themselves.
January 2002 - USA - A student who had been dismissed from the Appalachian
School of Law in Grundy, Virginia, kills the dean, a professor and a student,
and wounds three others.
February 2002 - GERMANY - In Freising, Bavaria, a former student thrown out of
trade school shoots three people before killing himself. Another teacher is
April 26, 2002 - GERMANY - In Erfurt, eastern Germany, a gunman opens fire after
he said he was not going to take a mathematics test. A total of 18 people die,
including the assailant.
September 1, 2004 - RUSSIA - 333 hostages - at least 186 of them children - die
in a chaotic storming of School No. 1 in Beslan, after it is seized by rebels
demanding Chechen independence.
March 21, 2005 - USA - A 16-year-old high school student shoots dead five
students, a teacher and a security guard at a school at Minnesota's Red Lake
Indian Reservation. He also killed his grandfather and his grandfather's
September 13, 2006 - CANADA - Kimveer Gill opens fire on the street and inside
the college in Montreal's Dawson College, killing one student and injuring 19
others. Gill kills himself after a battle with police.
October 2, 2006 - USA - Charles Carl Roberts, a dairy truck driver with a
grudge, attacks a one-room Amish school in rural Pennsylvania, He shoots 10
girls, killing five of them, before killing himself.
November 20, 2006 - GERMANY - An 18-year-old former pupil opens fire after
storming the Scholl school in the town of Emsdetten. Eleven people are wounded
before he commits suicide.
April 16, 2007 - USA - A gunmen kills 32 people and himself and wounds 15 others
at Virginia Tech University in the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history.
November 7, 2007 - FINLAND - Seven children and a head teacher are killed when a
student opens fire at a school in southern Finland. The 18-year-old dies later
in hospital after shooting himself in the head.
February 14, 2008 - USA - Five people are killed when a man opens fire in a
classroom at Northern Illinois University near Chicago, including the gunman who
killed himself, CNN reports.