Q&A: Utah teachers and guns in schools
Here's a look at questions about teachers and guns in Utah schools.
Q: What laws govern how Utah teachers handle guns in schools?
A: Utah school districts and charter schools must allow employees, including teachers, to carry firearms under state laws governing concealed weapon permit holders. Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen said employees with permits can carry in schools, but their weapons, as state law says, must remain concealed and in their personal possession.
Canyons School District policy acknowledges qualified people can obtain concealed weapon permits, but notes state law says a weapon is to be "covered, hidden or secreted in a manner that the public would not be aware of its presence and is readily accessible for immediate use."
Possessing or using a weapon in a way that is not authorized by law will lead to discipline that can include termination, the policy states. Employees who have permits and use concealed weapons are acting as individuals, not district employees, it adds.
Q: Do teachers have to keep guns on their bodies or can they put a gun elsewhere, such as a locker, desk or purse?
A: It would be up to how the school district interprets "readily accessible for immediate use" in the concealed weapon law. Carol Lear, an attorney with the Utah State Office of Education, said the office hears that districts "read that section very strictly and narrowly."
That means most districts would not allow teachers to leave a gun in a desk, Lear said, but it would be OK to place it in a purse that they are carrying.
Q: What if a teacher leaves the gun somewhere else, such as in a restroom?
A: Lear said discipline would depend on each district since there are no State Office of Education or Utah Board of Education policies. District officials could also pursue tougher sanctions, such as revoking certification.
Q: What happens if a teacher's firearm is shown either by accident or on purpose?
A: "If an individual with a concealed firearm permit accidentally exposes the concealed firearm, there is arguably no crime and no basis for revocation of the permit," the attorney general's office wrote in an email.
"However, it is a crime (class A misdemeanor) to draw or exhibit a dangerous weapon in an angry and threatening manner in the presence of two or more people," the A.G. wrote.
"If an angry teacher brandishes a gun in a classroom, the elements of this crime are likely met. Just be aware that hypothetical [situations] are always fraught with the lack of real life facts, which could very well change any legal analysis. ... For example, what if the 'angry teacher' was acting in self defense? or was acting to prevent a crime?"
Q: Does a teacher with a permit have to inform school administrators when they carry?
A: No. "If an employee has a concealed carry permit, they can carry," Christopher Williams, Davis School District spokesman, wrote in an email. "We would like, as a practice, to have employees let their supervisor know if they carry as a safety measure. However, they aren't required to do so."
Q: Do volunteers, parents or others visiting the school have the right to carry a firearm?
A: Yes. "We tell school districts individuals on school property with a concealed permit can carry," Lear said. "(School officials) can't ask about the permit because it's 'private information' [according to state law]."
Q: Why can't Utah public school districts ban weapons?
A: Because all authority to regulate firearms is reserved to the state, according to the attorney general's office, with possible exceptions when the Legislature specifically delegates responsibility to local authorities or state entities. Under a 2004 state law, Utah schools cannot adopt rules or policies that "in any way" restrict how people possess or use guns. State law bans students from having weapons at school.
Q: Could a private school ban weapons?
A: Yes. Juan Diego Catholic High School, for example, bans weapons on its campus. Spokeswoman Molly Gorman Dumas said, "We think more students would be at risk by arming our staff."
Q: Do the University of Utah and other higher-education campuses have to allow guns?
A: Yes, under the same law that emphasizes that the Legislature regulates guns, not schools, districts or colleges. In 2006, the Utah Supreme Court ruled the U. cannot ban concealed weapons on campus. Afterward, the university dismissed a federal lawsuit. "Current university policy on guns is the same as state law," John Morris, a university attorney, wrote in an email. "Students in residence halls may request a roommate who does not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon."
Q: Are parents allowed to ask about teachers with concealed weapons?
A: No. But a new parents' group, Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, has started a survey on school procedures at Utparents.org.
Q: Is Utah the only state to allow teachers with weapons?
A: No. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states allow educators with firearms on campus: South Dakota, Utah, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Additional states allow educators to carry weapons under certain circumstances.
For example, the "chief administrative officer" in Alaska can provide an exemption so an educator can carry a weapon; in Georgia, educators can have weapons in their locked cars; and, in Kentucky, if there's no notice on school property, those with concealed permits can carry. Here are the states that allow for exemptions: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Vermont.
Q: What have schools done to increase safety?
A: Chet Linton, chief executive officer of the Midvale-based School Improvement Network, said a national survey in January by the group found most educators "feel very safe." The questionnaire surveyed 10,661 educators from all 50 states.
"We asked teachers about taking guns to school," Linton said in an interview. "I was surprised, those that had guns, only a third would consider taking guns to school."
He added many of the safety measures schools are taking are "common sense," such as installing new door locking systems; leaving fewer doors open or other steps involving access; adding security cameras or new lockdown procedures; more safety drills specifically showing how to deal with an armed intruder; and adding or increasing a police presence on campuses.