Moreover, according to the agency, 183 school districts and charter schools are not fully in compliance with a law passed in 2007 that requires new applicants for school jobs to pass a criminal background check and provide fingerprints, and requires the Department of Public Safety to notify a school when a teacher or employee is arrested on criminal charges. All of this data is readily available on a state government website, which also offers figures on investigations by the State Board for Educator Certification. The report for the second quarter of fiscal year 2010, the most recent available, shows 400 opened investigations—of which over half involved allegations of sexual misconduct, violence, sexual harassment or inappropriate relationships with a student or minor, and more than a quarter resulted in a sanction or denial of a certificate to a new teacher.
This unsettling terrain has been covered in the past. Back in 2008, Austin’s KVUE reported that within the Austin Independent School District alone, 637 employees had criminal records, with 36 having faced felony charges. That same year WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth reported a similar story about the Dallas Independent School District; according to a local blog, the station reported that 1,300 employees—fully 13 percent—had criminal histories of one sort or another, and twenty had disqualifying histories. But the TV stations appear not to have checked their own archives. We found no mention this pertinent information in recent coverage of the assorted guns-in-schools proposals.
What other bits of context have generally gone missing? A closer look at public opinion, for one thing. It’s widely known that guns are a part of life in Texas: though the state’s 26 million people reside mostly in its sprawling cities, rural tradition still runs deep, and last year the Texas Department of Public Safety issued 149,105 concealed carry licenses. (Full disclosure: We both keep guns at home.) But the aforementioned January poll by Public Policy Polling found that Texans actually favor a ban on assault weapons, 49 to 41 percent. It’s a single survey, to be sure, but that’s a striking finding that warrants a closer look. But only a Houston Chronicle blog post and the alternative weekly, The Dallas Observer, have noted the poll findings, according to a recent Google search.
The coverage has also tended to ignore political motives among, well, politicians. It’s common knowledge that Attorney General Greg Abbott is interested in the governor’s mansion; he produced an advertising campaign last month that ran on media web sites in Manhattan and Albany and urged New York gun owners to move to Texas. The San Antonio Express-News didn’t mention Abbott’s ambitions in its initial coverage of his ads, though the paper did in a later article. The Austin American-Statesman noted the ads were paid for by Abbott’s campaign, but seemed to accept that they were aimed at New York lawmakers, not Texas primary voters.
Recent press coverage—like state legislators—hasn’t really examined gun violence in Texas, either. In 2011, Texas had 2.9 gun murders per 100,000 residents, according to The Guardian. That’s lower than, say, New York’s gun murder rate, but assaults and robberies using a gun here are more than double the rate in New York, which has far stricter gun control, and even higher than California’s rate. There are more gun-related murders, assaults and robberies in Texas than the national average, too, according the UK-based Guardian. Oddly, these statistics have not made it into coverage of the gun debate here.