NEW: Not all at class say they'll bring in a gun, but they support having armed teachers
Those in the free, concealed weapons class learned about laws, safety and more
Critics have ripped the NRA's proposal to facilitating have more armed people in schools
But some Utah teachers have been able to carry concealed weapons in class for years
About 200 Utah educators spent part of their holiday vacation in class themselves – learning how to handle a gun.
Those who attended the free, specially tailored concealed carry permit session near Salt Lake City included school secretaries, substitutes and full-time teachers. Whether they were committed to bringing a gun into school or simply giving themselves the option, they were united in their desire to learn more.
“I’m not really sure where I want to go with this, but I certainly think its good to be educated,” said Marguerita Davilla-Telck, the financial secretary at Matheson Junior High School in Magna. “I know we have had concealed weapons in the building, and I know it made me feel safer.”
The idea of a Utah teacher having a loaded weapon in class isn’t new, nor is it illegal. Still, Thursday’s class received attention in the wake of this month’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, as well as National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre pitch that his advocacy organization can help facilitate the arming of more educators.
Mostly Democratic politicians, teacher’s groups and mayors – including New York’s Michael Bloomberg, Boston’s Thomas Menino and Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter – have blasted this proposal. For them, the focus policywise should be ensuring there aren’t firearms in schools, not bringing more of them in.
“Guns have no place in our schools. Period,” Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten, the presidents of the two biggest U.S. teachers’ unions, said in a joint statement. “We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.
But to Clark Aposhian – president of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, which ran Thursday’s event in West Valley City – it’s a matter of giving teachers, school administrators, janitors and others the same rights, when licensed, to carry a concealed weapon in their place of work as others have.
“What we’re talking about is not arming teachers,” he said, contending that the approach of locking doors and hiding behind a desk “just isn’t doing it anymore.” “We’re simply not taking away that ability of lawful self-defense within a school.”
For 12 years, Utah educators have been able to do just that, even if only a small fraction do bring guns into their workplace. The state’s concealed weapon law allows for a person to have, on his person or in a secure lockbox, a weapon inside a school, Aposhian said.
If they do have a loaded gun, their principals, school districts, and local police departments wouldn’t even know, given the restrictions in place limiting who is told about who has a concealed weapons permit.
Aposhian told CNN that, since this law took effect, there have been no accidents or incidents involving educators’ firearms in Utah schools, nor have there been school shootings in the state.
The aim of Thursday’s six-hour training sessions isn’t to make educators into commandos roaming the halls to engage in shootouts with school shooters, he said. Rather, it’s to give them one more option – should the lockdown policies fail, law enforcement officers don’t arrive on time, and a gunman makes his way into their room.
“When that shooter gets into the classroom, the teacher doesn’t need to do a lot of tactical training to access and engage a firearm,” said Aposhian, who is an instructor at Thursday’s session.
“Point it at the shooter, (who) is probably going to be 5 to 10 feet away, and press the trigger – thereby alleviating that option of jumping in front of the kids to soak up the bullets.”
Teri Binkerd, a Spanish and stagecraft teacher at Viewmont High School, said she will do everything she can to protect her students. And she doesn’t want to regret not having done everything she can, should a gunman enter her school.
“I’m here because I don’t want to be a statistic, and I don’t want to lose any of my kids,” she said in between sessions Thursday, adding that several parents have asked her if she’d consider carrying a gun during school. “If somebody is coming after my kids, they’re going down and going down hard.”
Binkerd was among the roughly 200 who went to the class Thursday, which had only been announced a few days earlier, a response that Aposhian described as “overwhelming.” They were taught things like how to handle and secure their firearm, plus applicable laws – a class that, except for one hour devoted to what to do in school shooting scenarios, any other qualified Utahan could take.
“This is nothing new for Utah,” Aposhian said. “You just haven’t heard of it before.”
Some in attendance Thursday were on the fence about whether they’d personally bring a weapon to school. Still, there was a widely shared sentiment that school would be safer if more trusted educators, beyond an armed guard standing watch at the front door, had guns.
“The sooner these gunmen … face opposition, the sooner the carnage will stop,” said Dustin “Spanky” Ward, an independent filmmaker who substitutes in Salt Lake City’s Granite School District. “If I was a parent, I’d be OK with it as long as the people carrying the weapons were prepared, responsible and knew what they were doing.”
Journalist Dan Nestel contributed to this report.