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Listen to experts before arming teachers

Published December 22, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Margaret Anderson, a Tribune reader, sent me an email she received from her son Wyeth Anderson, who is serving active duty in the military.

In light of comments by some Utah legislators and Republican members of Congress who believe the way to stop school massacres like the tragedy in Connecticut is to arm all the teachers and train them to shoot, I believe Wyeth Anderson's comments are instructive.

As a professional soldier trained in combat, Anderson worries about the arming of most civilians, "not because they are acting outside of their rights, but because they are not qualified."

That, of course will get an argument from Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, a concealed-weapon instructor and one of the leading gun-rights advocates in the Legislature. He co-authored a column that ran in the Opinion section of The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday, arguing that when teachers are armed and trained, that pretty much ends the murderous rampages in schools because the educators can stop the perpetrators before they can do much harm.

Oda and co-author Mitch Vilos, also a concealed-weapon instructor, offer anecdotal evidence to support their claim, but little empirical data to suggest arming teachers will solve the problem.

Here is Anderson's point of view from the perspective of a soldier trained to kill:

"It's one thing to be an expert shot on a target range from both a ready and unready position. It's far more difficult to shoot accurately when your heart is pounding and you're breathing quickly. It's even more difficult when you're terrified. Compound that complexity when the target is moving. Compound it again if the moving target is actively trying to kill you."

Anderson notes that few Americans are trained to shoot accurately in those situations. Most of those who are, are in SWAT units or in Special Operations.

"It costs governments millions of dollars to train and equip each of these individuals to remain calm, make good decisions and shoot accurately in life-or-death situations," he wrote. "These individuals operate mostly in teams, in body armor, with sophisticated intelligence and communications capabilities, and with their weapons in the up and ready position. It's not easy. People would be surprised how many active duty military personnel aren't able to qualify with their assigned weapons."

And the idea that all one has to do is take a firearms class, get a concealed weapons permit and, voila, everyone is safe, was questioned during a legislative committee meeting a few years ago when Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, asked a State Bureau of Criminal Identification official how many concealed weapon permits have been revoked for various reasons. The answer was that hundreds have been revoked.

That suggests not everyone with a concealed weapon permit can be trusted to act responsibly and professionally in a highly stressful situation.

Add the concerns of Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank who told legislators in 2011 that getting rid of a gun-free buffer zone around schools was a bad idea.

Burbank told me last week that civilians brandishing guns in a mass shooting situation create more of a problem for law enforcement than a solution.

SWAT members must make instant decisions when responding to an event like the Trolley Square shooting a few years ago. They arrive not knowing how many assailants they are dealing with or who they are. Even the off-duty Ogden police officer at Trolley Square who was trying to help became a distraction for SWAT members, even though he could show them he had a badge.

They were deciding whether he was a good guy or bad guy while needing to focus on the actual killer at the mall. —