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Gun violence at North Texas schools: ‘The problem is the fact that it’s a possibility’

Gun violence at North Texas schools: ‘The problem is the fact that it’s a possibility’

Gun violence at North Texas schools: ‘The problem is the fact that it’s a possibility’
June 09
14:18 2022

In the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting on May 24, the Denton City Council has passed a resolution to express the city of Denton’s support of the city of Uvalde, Texas.

The Uvalde shooting reignited debate about gun control around the country and parents’ concern about sending their children to school. In response to these concerns, Dr. Jeff Russell, Denton Independent School District area superintendent maintains the district’s policies are up to the state’s safety standards.

“We’re in compliance with the expectations of the state,” Russell said. “One of those things is to have an emergency operation plan for each campus, and our district plan has been certified in improvement.

Russell plans to attend the upcoming Texas School Safety Conference at Texas State University from June 19-23, which he anticipates will provide safety procedure updates because of the Uvalde shooting.

“These shootings have occurred everywhere, not just in schools over the last month or so,” Russell said. “At least in schools there are procedures and things in place. […] The chances of survival at school, if something were to occur, are much higher than in most public places. If the idea is to put your child in the safest place possible, in my opinion, that’s the school.”

Julia Zwhar, chief communications officer for DISD and public relations professional, recommends parents who are still concerned about school safety should volunteer in school classrooms, work with a booster club or get involved in the parent-teacher association.

“The more adults we have inside our school campuses, the safer that we believe they will be,” Zwhar said. “That’s been proven statistically.”

There are also plans to advocate for more safety measures at the 88th Legislative Session in spring of 2023, according to Zwhar.

“We’re fortunate that we have resources, and we have a plan in place,” Zwhar said. “[Some of our neighboring communities] don’t have the resources that we have as a larger school district, so we plan to advocate heavily for not just more safety measures for our district, but for other communities as well […] We just believe training diligence and making good decisions on behalf of our staff is so valuable.”

The University of North Texas’ emergency protocols are also constantly being reviewed and revised, and are currently in the process of being updated for the summer, according to Julie Elliott — the university’s emergency preparedness and business continuity manager.

“We are constantly looking at current events, experiences that have happened on campus and looking at ways that things need to be revised based on that,” Elliott said. “It’s a continual improvement process for sure. We also have with our active shooter. Whenever the FBI releases different studies, we’ll go and pull different numbers to try to add to it and make sure the stuff is still current and has the latest data.”

UNT’s Annual Security and Fire Safety report showed six arrests for weapons violations in 2019, zero for 2020 and nine in the drafted report for 2021. The 2021 draft is under review and subject to change and the 2020 statistics were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If an individual experiences a situation that makes them feel unsafe, university Cpl. David Causey encourages students to report it to UNT police.

“If you know somebody that is in need of help, make sure that you’re reaching out and trying to help them get the help and the assistance they need,” Causey said. “If somebody does threaten you or you see something, report that to us immediately […] If somebody is a victim of a crime and they’re not wanting to report it to the police, they can always talk to the to the survivor advocate, part of the Dean of Students office, if they’re not wanting police involvement.”

Deb Armintor, a university professor, parent of a Denton ISD student and former city council member, feels that schools and the university are as safe as they can be from gun violence.

“I’m more nervous thinking about my kids learning to drive,” Armintor said. “I feel that they’re as safe as they can be in the state of Texas and in the schools.”

The real concern, according to Armintor, is gun control.

“I’m totally devastated and angry because of the innocent lives lost, the legality with which an 18-year-old who feels like killing people can just go out and get a weapon […] and by the police response [in Uvalde],” Armintor said.

The police response to the Robb Elementary shooting has faced rising scrutiny after state officials found that officers retreated after being fired upon. Officers were also instructed by Pedro Arredondo, Robb Elementary police chief and incident commander, to wait outside the building rather than neutralize the threat.

Armintor believes the decision was made out of fear, and likens it to the shooting of Darius Tarver, a 23-year-old UNT student, in Jan. 2020. Kevin Tarver, his father, sued the city and involved officers in February in a wrongful death suit.

“I’m glad that people are realizing this now because it has been a crisis for a very long time,” Armintor said. “Police can do just about anything in claiming that they were afraid for their lives. They used that as an excuse when they killed UNT student Darius Tarver, who was having a mental health crisis but never hurt anyone […] They can use that same excuse to say, this is why they didn’t go in, and this is why they didn’t follow their active shooter training.”

Federal and state governments may have the most power over the issue of gun control, but the Denton City Council still has tools they can use to deter gun violence, according to Armintor.

Actions the City Council could consider taking is passing a resolution in favor of banning military-style assault weapons, using zoning to make it more difficult to sell guns in Denton or charging extra taxes on gun businesses.

Because gun control is considered a federal issue, rather than pass a resolution, Gerard Hudpseth, the mayor of Denton, believes time and money should be invested locally.

“If the only thing I can stand and say is, ‘Hey we sent a bunch of resolutions to the federal government and they didn’t do anything,’ that’s not good,” Hudspeth said. “I’m held accountable for getting things done here in the city of Denton for the citizens. I want to do what’s most effective with the limited amount of time we have.”

Alternatively, Hudpseth encourages citizens to write their local officials and have conversations with them.

“I’ve found governor Abbott’s team to be very responsive when I would write and do the same thing I’m telling others to do,”

Like Hudpseth, Armintor also encourages citizens to take action.

“I would suggest that young people take action and speak up, but also that they understand the likelihood [a shooting would happen] is still very low anywhere,” Armintor said. “The problem is the fact that it’s a possibility, that’s the real problem.”

Featured Image: The outside of the University of North Texas Sullivant Public Safety Center on June 6, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

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Madeleine Moore

Madeleine Moore

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