To encourage more Utah teachers to carry guns, Legislature OKs free ‘classroom threat’ training

The proposal would establish the “Educator Protector Program” to provide the free training.

A Utah bill that aims to provide teachers with free classroom-threat response training to encourage more educators to carry guns is headed to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.

The proposal, HB119, would establish the “Educator Protector Program,” which would include the training. It would also require that teachers store their firearms in “biometric” gun safes in their classrooms if they choose not to actively carry their weapon in the building.

Current Utah law allows people to carry firearms in public schools so long as they have a concealed firearm permit. The bill would follow lawmakers’ decision last year to waive concealed carry permit fees for school employees as another incentive.

Previous versions of HB119 allocated a $500 reimbursement for the required biometric gun safes, but the final version wouldn’t offer that reimbursement, floor sponsor Republican State Sen. David Hinkins told The Salt Lake Tribune. Biometric safes use unique characteristics such as fingerprints to verify a user’s identity.

The free, annual classroom response training would need to be administered by an individual identified by a county sheriff, under Utah law. It would teach participants how to defend a classroom against active threats, as well as how to safely load, unload, store and carry firearms in a school, according to the bill.

The proposal previously required at least four hours of annual firearms training, but the version the Legislature passed this week removed that language. It does require that all participants in the program have a valid concealed carry permit under the Concealed Firearm Act, which requires a firearms familiarity course certified by the Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, told lawmakers at a recent House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee meeting that the bill would help teachers — like his brother — finance trainings they may not be able to afford.

“Since teachers can already carry firearms, and many are, why not provide them with the skills and the education they need in order to protect our children?” Jimenez said. “HB119 is strictly a defensive bill.”

Stan Holmes, a retired teacher, opposed the bill, arguing at the same committee meeting that while a biometric gun safe is encouraged, “the firearm itself is not required to be biometric, so another person can use it.”

“Thirty years of teaching taught me that students are smart, perceptive and clever. They will know which teachers are packing,” Holmes said.

Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Riebe expressed on Wednesday that teachers are already allowed to carry a concealed weapon, “so we’re really not solving a problem.”

Riebe also shared concerns about the bill offering teachers in the program liability protections, asking who would be responsible if a teacher shot someone while “acting in good faith.”

The proposal currently states teachers in the program would not be liable for civil damages or penalties if, while carrying a firearm, they were acting in “good faith”; not “grossly negligent”; or threatened, drew, or otherwise used a firearm “reasonably believing the action to be necessary.”

It also gives local education agencies, such as school districts, blanket liability protection from teachers participating in the program.

“As a person who might be a victim of friendly fire, who would I then ask to take care of my child? Would that all be part of my insurance if my child was shot by accident?” Riebe asked, adding, “That’s just problematic.”

A total of $100,000 was appropriated for the bill — $25,000 for the program itself and $75,000 for the trainings. The proposal would go into effect May 1 if signed into law.