SALT LAKE CITY — A new set of concerns have emerged as more Utah teachers seek to arm themselves in the classroom.
The pushback comes as gun advocates urge teachers to pack guns against an intruder. Utah law allows teachers and anyone else licensed to carry concealed weapons to wear a gun in a public school. But some believe teachers should disclose to parents that they’re packing, and that alarmed parents should be able to request a different classroom for their children.
To accomplish all of this, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss has drafted legislation for action by the Utah House.
“I see this not as a gun bill, but a parents’ rights bill,” said Moss, a Democrat from the upscale Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay. “The worst thing to have is a lot of teachers with guns. My constituents — parents and teachers — all say this is the wrong approach.”
Gun lobbyists say the legislation runs counter to common sense because privacy is a cornerstone of having a permit to wear a concealed weapon. Unlike many other states, Utah doesn’t draw a line on concealed weapons at public schools, and instructors say more teachers are applying for the permit. Educators say they have no way of knowing how many teachers are arming themselves because they don’t have to disclose it.
The efforts to arm or train Utah teachers to confront assailants came only weeks after a gunman killed his mother and then went on a rampage through Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children and six adults before killing himself.
Nearly 200 Utah teachers showed up Dec. 27 for the first firearms instruction course offered by Utah’s leading gun lobby, which waived a $50 fee for the training.
“I thought it was an over-reaction and a poor way to ensure school safety,” said Moss, a retired English teacher. “The best thing schools can do for safety is to make sure teachers can lock the doors of their classrooms. There are a lot of situations teachers can control without guns.”
Moss acknowledged that teachers were of two minds on gun safety. Some see no problem packing guns in classrooms. Others are horrified by the presence of weapons. Many administrators say guns are fraught with danger. Among the potential dangers they point to are teachers being overpowered for their weapons or misfiring in a panic and hitting innocent bystanders.
But school administrators and state education officials almost universally argue that arming teachers is unwise.
“The more guns you have in the school, the more dangerous it is,” Leslie Keisel, superintendent of the North Sanpete School District, has told The Associated Press.
Yet teachers are among the most responsible gun owners and forcing them to disclose when they bring guns to schools would only demonize them, argues Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the state’s biggest gun lobby.
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Aposhian, a tactical firearms instructor. “It targets teachers who are feeling vulnerable and choose this method of self-defense rather than protect students by jumping in front of bullets.”
Utah is among a few states that let people carry licensed concealed weapons into public schools without exception, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Anyone can pack a legally concealed weapon at schools in Utah, although it took a law enacted a dozen years ago to expressly allow it. Legislators took action to overrule some school districts that were trying to enforce their own gun rules.
“We’ve had 12 years of no problems, let alone a pattern of problems,” Aposhian said. “We trust our kids with teachers every day. Why do we think they’ll be any danger?”
Aposhian said Moss’ bill has virtually no chance of passage in a state that celebrates gun ownership. Legislators are moving in the opposite direction, advancing a proposal to do away with the requirement of a permit for a concealed weapon.
Aposhian’s defense of armed teachers got no argument from any of the teachers who showed up for his gun instruction for six hours in late December.
“I never felt threatened in 14 years of teaching, but I don’t think you can be too prepared,” said Tiffany Parry, a dance teacher in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy who applied for a license to carry a concealed gun. “I think it could come in handy.”