Sandy • Preschool teacher Rebecca Gwaltney thinks about the prospect of a campus shooter at least a few times every month — and even more often right after mass killings like the recent attack at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.
“It’s always kind of in the back of your mind,” said Gwaltney, who teaches in the Granite School District. “What’s going to happen if someone comes in, and I have to, you know … “
Better to be prepared, she figures.
Gwaltney, who attends gun shows and shoots recreationally, arrived Saturday morning at a warehouse in Sandy for a free concealed carry gun class organized for teachers and college students.
About 1,000 people signed up, which organizers said likely made it the largest concealed carry course ever taught in the state. Concealed firearms may be carried with a permit inside all Utah public schools and universities.
“It’s been a very positive reaction,” said Sam Robinson, co-owner of Utah Gun Exchange, which organized the event in the wake of the Florida massacre. “There are a lot of people who want to learn more, who want to become more engaged and take a more active role in the defense of our schools — so they at least have the opportunity to be the last line of defense.”
On the four-hour class agenda: firearm safety, handling, transportation, storage and laws, plus basic tactical skills that instructors said might come in handy during a school shooting. Media were not allowed inside, to “protect the privacy of people who are here,” Robinson said, adding organizers wanted to ensure attendees were not “shamed” for their beliefs about gun rights.
Educators and students were fingerprinted and photographed so they could swiftly apply for a permit with the Utah Department of Public Safety following the event.
Attendees also watched a video with a statement from Andrew Pollack, the father of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack, who died in last month’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Robinson said he and Utah Gun Exchange co-founder Bryan Melchior reached out to Pollack last week, and the father endorsed their idea for a concealed carry class.
“Utah teachers, you are doing the responsible thing,” the father said in a message to the Utah Gun Exchange, according to a video the company posted online. “Once you provide the deterrent, then the criminals won’t come anymore and kill our kids.”
His statement continued: “Gun control won’t save your kids. We live in a society where evil is pervasive, and you need to protect yourself from evil.”
Utah Education Association officials declined to comment on Saturday’s event.
Concealed carry classes for teachers have been held in Utah before. One attracted more than 150 teachers and school workers in late 2012, shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and free courses have been held periodically, said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and one of the instructors at Saturday’s event.
But Aposhian said the Florida shooting has spurred a new level of interest in gun classes among Utah educators. “Every time one of these shootings hits home, people internalize it, and they relate to it to this degree that it could’ve happened to them,” he said.
Teachers already are drilled on what to do during a shooting, including locking the classroom door and taking shelter. But what happens if the room is breached, or a “bad guy is pointing a gun at you?” Aposhian asked.
“That’s where we pick up,” he said, training teachers or students basic skills for engaging an attacker.
Yet Aposhian and Robinson said that doesn’t mean encouraging teachers to roam the hallways searching for a shooter.
“We’re not asking people to be Rambo,” Robinson said. “We’re helping people do what they want to do, which is be the last line of defense. In case something does happen, they will have an opportunity to respond to it, as opposed to do nothing and just hope that they don’t get shot, or hope that their kids don’t get shot.”
Not everyone in attendance had the Florida shooting on their mind. Clarissa Howard, a Brigham Young University student, said she has wanted to obtain a concealed carry gun permit for a while, even though she wouldn’t be allowed to carry a gun on her private university’s campus.
The 20-year-old is now allowed to carry a gun elsewhere, however, under a Utah law passed last year allowing residents ages 18 to 20 to obtain a provisional permit. They can carry anywhere a regular permit holder can, except for elementary, middle school and high school grounds.
“I’d like to become better at it,” Howard said of her ability with firearms. “It’s not because I expect [a shooting] to happen in my life, but it’s supposed to be a guard against it.”
Aposhian said the goals of the concealed carry class fall short of what President Donald Trump suggested following the Florida shooting — including giving a fifth of the nation’s teachers guns, plus annual bonuses and training. The instructor disagrees with the president’s aggressive proposal, as do a number of Utah teachers and education officials.
“A schoolteacher is asked to teach, and we’re not suggesting they be armed,” he said. “In Utah, I think we do it correctly — we just don’t disarm them.”
Teachers will carry a gun, he added, “because that’s their choice.”