Utah launches firearms safety video for schools, confronting ‘the reality that guns are part of our society’

Utah officials unveiled a new firearm safety campaign for public schools Thursday, coincidentally a day after a Salt Lake City high school went on lockdown because a student brought a handgun into the building.

In announcing Thursday’s launch of the L.E.T.S. Stay Safe video at the state Capitol, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes noted Wednesday’s incident at West High School — and praised students there for reporting the threat to school officials, one of the lessons the new video aims to teach. (Police arrested a juvenile with a handgun at West, and the lockdown was called off within an hour.)

The five-minute video, mandated by a law passed in 2016, “addresses the reality that guns are part of our society,” Reyes said.

The video, officials stress, does not teach students how to handle a firearm, and by law “shall be neutral of political statements on guns.” The video does begin with the statistic that 42% of Utah households own some kind of firearm.

The Utah Legislature allocated $75,000 to produce the video and accompanying curriculum for grades 5 through 12. Reyes said his office spent just under $70,000 of that money.

The video, produced by the Texas-based Kalkomey Enterprises, shows students three scenarios where they might encounter a gun. The first is in someone’s garage; the second is while playing video games at a friend’s house; and the third is hearing a rumor of a student bringing a gun to school.

In all three situations, the same guidelines apply, using the acronym L.E.T.S.:

• Leave it alone.

• Educate others.

• Tell an adult.

• Share threats.

Among the children featured in the video is Sam Gonzalez, a 10-year-old from Pleasant Grove who encountered a gun frozen in the ice near his bus stop last February.

Gonzalez and his friends “could only see the handle,” he said at Thursday’s news conference. “We tried kicking it out of the ice, until we saw the trigger.” Then, Gonzalez said, he told his friends, “Don’t touch the gun. We’ll wait until the bus driver comes.” The driver called the police, who retrieved the gun.

State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who sponsored the 2016 bill mandating the education program’s creation, said thousands of Utah parents and children use firearms responsibly, but “there are thousands of children and families who have never talked about guns.”

Weiler said the curriculum is “targeted toward children who happen upon guns and don’t know what to do.”

The state’s school districts will have to opt in to use the curriculum, Reyes said, but “all the administrators we’ve spoken to believe it’s a worthwhile endeavor.”

“This video is not a magic elixir,” Weiler said. “It’s not going to solve all the problems of guns in our society.”