SANTA FE, Texas — They, like so many others, thought they had taken the steps to avoid this.

The school district had an active-shooter plan, and two armed police officers walked the halls of the high school. School district leaders had even agreed last fall to eventually arm teachers and staff under Texas’ school marshal program, one of the country’s most aggressive and controversial policies aimed at getting more guns into classrooms.

They believed they were a hardened target, part of what’s expected today of the American public high school in an age when school shootings occur with alarming frequency. And so a death toll of 10 was a tragic sign of failure and needing to do more, but also a sign, to some, that it could have been much worse.

“My first indication is that our policies and procedures worked,” J.R. “Rusty” Norman, president of the school district’s board of trustees, said Saturday, standing exhausted at his front door. “Having said that, the way things are, if someone wants to get into a school to create havoc, they can do it.”

The mass shooting – which killed 10 people and wounded 10 others in this rural community outside Houston – again highlighted the despairing challenge at the center of the ongoing debate over how to make the nation’s schools safer. It also hints at a growing feeling of inevitability, a normalization of what should be impossible tragedies.

The gunman in Santa Fe used a pistol and a shotgun, firearms common to many South Texas homes, firearms he took from this father, police said. So there were no echoes of the calls to ban military-style AR-15s or raise the minimum age for gun purchases that came after the school shooting three months ago in Parkland, Florida.

Most residents here didn’t blame any gun for the tragedy down the street. Many of them pointed to a lack of religion in schools.

“It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s a heart problem,” said Sarah Tassin, 61. “We need to bring God back into the schools.”

Texas politicians are pushing to focus on school security – the hardening of targets.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he planned to hold roundtable discussions starting Tuesday on how to make schools even more secure. One idea he and other state officials mentioned was limiting the number of entrances to the facilities. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said Congress eventually would consider legislation focused on “hardening targets and adding more school metal detectors and school police officers.”

But the horror in Santa Fe shows there are limits there, too.

Norman said he saw school security as a way to control, not prevent, school violence. And the school district had some practice. In February, two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Santa Fe High went into lockdown after a false alarm of an active-shooter situation, resulting in a huge emergency response. The school won a statewide award for its safety program.

“We can never be over-prepared,” Norman said. “But we were prepared.”

His school board approved a plan in November to allow some school staff to carry guns, joining more than 170 school districts in Texas that have made similar plans. But Santa Fe was still working on it, Norman said. Staff needed to be trained. Details needed to be worked out, such as a requirement that school guns fire only frangible bullets, which break apart into small pieces and are unlikely to pass through victims, as a way to limit the danger to innocent students.


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