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Utah teachers learn how to pack heat

Published January 4, 2014 4:14 pm

Guns and schools • Lower attendance at free class this year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last winter, so many Utah educators showed up to a free gun class, organizers had to turn away dozens.

On Friday, more than a year after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Connecticut, only about 30 people turned out for the class, which was free to Utah educators and school employees.

"Any time there's a shooting … our phones start ringing," said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, which held the event, "but it lasts about a week or two and then people get lulled into a sense of complacency, even though the threat is still valid."

About half of Utah school districts had also returned to class as of Friday, while the training session in 2012 was held in the middle of Christmas break. That difference could also account for the dip in attendance, Aposhian said.

The class, at the Salt Lake City Main Library, focused on the basics of responding to an attack, carrying concealed weapons and — using plastic replicas — gun handling and safety. Utahns who hold concealed carry permits are legally allowed to carry firearms on school grounds.

A January 2013 poll by Dan Jones & Associates for The Exoro Group found that 59 percent of Utahns either strongly or somewhat favored allowing full-time school workers to carry firearms at schools.

The National Rifle Association has also suggested schools train staff members to carry guns, though the nation's two largest teachers unions oppose arming educators.

Those who attended the training on Friday had varying attitudes and plans about carrying in the classroom.

Ronda Weaver, a reading teacher at Bonneville Junior High in Holladay, said she's definitely considering carrying a gun to school. She said all educators think about what would happen if dangerous intruders entered their classrooms.

"If somebody's coming through that door, I've got my kids behind me, I've got my gun, and by goodness, I will shoot them if I have that gun because they're there to do us harm," Weaver said of a crisis situation.

Elizabeth Edgell, a teacher at Ogden's Heritage Elementary, said the class Friday was a first step in eventually bringing a gun to school. She said she'd like to pursue more training and practice first but believes it's important she be able to protect her students.

She said carrying a gun in the classroom seems like a necessity similar to learning CPR. She said she'd feel better knowing her children's teachers carried.

"I hand them over to teachers eight hours a day, trusting them with their minds," Edgell said. "I would hope they would defend them too."

Others who attended the class just wanted to keep the possibility open.

Sara Justet, a librarian in the Granite School District, said she's not planning at the moment to carry a gun to school, partly because she feels her school is in a relatively quiet neighborhood. But she said it's good to have the option.

"Just the way the world is ... you never know what's going to happen," Justet said.

Marvin Match, who runs a laboratory at the University of Utah, said he also wasn't sure if he would carry but would like to have the choice. It's important for school teachers as well, he said.

"If somebody comes into your school with bad intentions, what are you going to do?" Match said. "How many kids are you going to let die?"

Not everyone, of course, agrees that teachers should carry weapons in school. Steven Gunn, with the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, did not attend the class, but when contacted afterward said arming teachers seems like a poor idea.

He said one class is not enough training for teachers planning to carry, and he questioned how well a teacher would really be able to hide a weapon from kids.

"The message that's being sent is that the classroom is unsafe, so unsafe that a teacher feels it necessary to carry a weapon," Gunn said. "I think that is harmful to the well being of the students and the students' sense of security."

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, however, said it's great to see teachers taking action. Oda, who visited the class Friday, has long been a gun rights advocate at the Legislature.

"Basically, these teachers at Sandy Hook, all they could do was go, 'Stop!' '' Oda said, holding out his arms. "And what did they do? They died with their kids."

He said he's not planning any legislation this session addressing guns in schools and hasn't yet heard of any other lawmakers proposing bills.

Last year, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, ran a bill that would have allowed parents to find out which teachers carried and move their kids out of their classes, but that bill died quickly.