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Rural Oklahoma superintendent sought federal funds for firearm training

Oklahoma high school students held a rally against gun violence at the Capitol earlier this month. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Oklahoma high school students held a rally against gun violence at the Capitol earlier this month. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]

A rural Oklahoma school superintendent sent an email to the White House last year requesting federal funds to train armed teachers, a request that was sent to the U.S. Department of Education and initiated a statement by the nation’s top school official that the concept deserved further consideration.

Last August, multiple national media outlets reported U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was exploring the idea of letting school districts use federal money to purchase guns.

POLITICO reported that a senior Trump administration official claimed the request originated in Oklahoma and Texas without providing specifics.

At the time, the state Department of Education denied it had raised the issue.

The request from Oklahoma referred to by the Trump administration official now appears to be from Porter Superintendent Charles McMahan, who sent an email to the White House on May 21, suggesting the federal government fund gun training for teachers.

“We have implemented an armed staff policy at my school and was wondering if there is any money or grants that could help with our training,” McMahan wrote to the White House in an email that was discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request. “Oklahoma [sic] education budget is very thin, so all of the training comes out of our own pocket.”

Following reports that schools were requesting the funds for firearm training, Democracy Forward, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Giffords Law Center and the American Federation of Teachers jointly submitted a FOIA request for relevant documents.

The search revealed McMahan’s letter, along with three schools in Texas that had also reached out to the Department of Education to inquire about additional funding.

In a phone interview this week with The Oklahoman, McMahan said he had spent more than $4,000 of his own money on training and ammunition.

He said his school district has a policy in place that requires a significant amount of training, often more than law enforcement.

“If law enforcement has to pull a weapon and fire, their backdrop is not likely to be a group of students,” McMahan said. “If I have to pull my weapon that’s more than likely what my backdrop is going to be.”

In his email to the White House, McMahan urged President Donald Trump to use federal education funding for firearm training.

“Anything would help at this point,” McMahan wrote in his email. “Thank you for your time and PLEASE keep up the great work of Making American Great Again!”

McMahan sent his email three days after 10 people were killed in a shooting at a Houston-area high school.

Three months earlier, 17 were killed in a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Those two shootings brought renewed attention to school safety, with some lawmakers backing efforts to arm more teachers.

School boards in Oklahoma can approve gun policies for teachers and staff, although just a handful of small districts are known to have done so.

Prior to becoming superintendent in Porter in 2017, McMahan was superintendent of Okay Public Schools and oversaw a board-approved policy there to allow teachers to carry firearms.

He said the need was greater in rural communities like Porter that rely on county first responders, which could be far away when called to respond to an incident.

“I still wish the government would fund us,” McMahan said.

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›