FORT WORTH, Texas -- Armed police officers aren't an unusual sight in North Texas secondary schools.
The Dallas school district has its own police force, as does at least one Tarrant County district, Mansfield.
But even in Texas, where guns are practically a birthright, plenty of people struggle with the thought of armed security officers walking past walls covered in finger-painted artwork and among laughing wee ones squirming in crooked hallway lines.
When the 83rd Texas Legislature opens Tuesday, the question of guns in schools -- particularly elementary schools -- will take on a new urgency as lawmakers and educators grapple with how to make campuses safer after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"It's anyone's guess what lawmakers will ever do, but I would bet security legislation gets filed," said Joe Tison, a former Weatherford school superintendent and one of several area school leaders who spoke with the Star-Telegram about campus security.The shooting deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., shook communities like no other recent event.
Proposed reactions are quickly turning into debate points, from arming principals to posting armed officers at elementary schools to adding more mental health programs for teens.
The National Rifle Association raised the stakes when Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for armed officers at every school in America.
The cost alone, many say, would be staggering. In Fort Worth, estimates put the elementary school price tag at more than $5 million.
"The NRA has taken an absurd position in advocating a huge additional expense for our school districts," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who is considering filing a law to tax ammunition as a way to pay for mental health services for teens.
Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said school and campus security will be top themes in the legislative session, especially as lawmakers and school leaders gain a better idea of what happened in Newtown.
The answers, she said, will steer any action: "What happened? What went right? What worked and what didn't."
School security will mostly be handled by local districts, which must submit and maintain emergency plans.
"There is a lot of local control when it comes to those issues in Texas already," said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.
Klick agreed: "People need to pay attention to what their local boards are doing."
'When evil comes'
North Texas school and law enforcement leaders said they are continually updating security plans. But the Sandy Hook shootings prompted more review.
"I think we learned by looking at Newtown [that] it could be any town in the United States. When evil comes, you have to be as prepared as you can for it," Keller Police Chief Mark Hafner told city leaders recently. "Though you will never be ready, you can be prepared."
People are already accustomed to armed police officers at high schools or middle schools, where calls for tighter security followed the 1998 shootings at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, Ark., and the 1999 massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School.
School districts mandate rapid-response training for teachers and security that includes cameras and lockdown systems. Texas schools file security plans and sign contracts with cities for armed police officers.
In Fort Worth, 48 Fort Worth law enforcement officers and three from the Benbrook Police Department are available to the schools.