Gun-toting teachers: 'Make it harder to kill a kid'

1:24 PM, Dec 27, 2012   |    comments
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Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

Class was in session Thursday for about 200 Utah teachers who will get special firearms training - working with a plastic gun in a conference room at a hockey arena - to carry concealed weapons in their classrooms.

Since the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the National Rifle Association news conference touting arming teachers for school security, such classes are drawing fresh attention.

In Ohio, the Buckeye Shooting Foundation is swamped with 20 times more applications - from teachers and administrators to custodians and bus drivers -- than they have space for in a three-day tactical defense course to be offered this this spring.

Jim Irvine, president of the Ohio foundation, said Thursday that the $1,000 per person Armed Teacher Training Program would be free for the 24 people selected from more than 400 applicants. "What better use for an educational foundation than to help educators protect our children," he said.

It is legal in Ohio to bring a concealed weapon on school grounds if a school district has granted permission. Irvine expects more will do so since the Sandy Hook killings.

"School boards were just in denial. That denial got ripped away in Newtown, Conn. The idea is to make it hard to kill a kid," he said.

The school personnel chosen for the class must already have basic firearms training and a concealed carry permit and come to the Tactical Defense Institute in rural West Union, Ohio, with their own handgun, holster, extra magazines and speed loaders.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, shortly before the class was set to start, Clark Aposhian, chairman of the sponsoring Utah Shooting Sports Council, said they were expecting at least 200 people to attend.

But this is not their first round training school personnel. Utah has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on K-12 campuses for 12 years now and, said Aposhian, "We have never had any accidental or intentional shootings." He serves on the on the state board where any violation of concealed weapon laws would be reported.

"Teachers are professionals. They will take appropriate measures to maintain a gun discreetly and safely," said Aposhian, a tactical firearm instructor.

All they needed to bring was a driver's license as Utah does not require any gun licensing other than an application for a concealed carry permit. The applications do not require you to list your occupation, and concealed weapon permit records are closed so no one knows how many teachers are already armed.

Gun-toting teachers are "a deterrent when the bad guy comes in. He could be surprised by return fire from any direction. We are not expecting teachers to go out and actively engage the shooter. We want them to do the lockdown drill they have been trained to do," Aposhian said.

"But it fails when someone breaks into a classroom. This is where having a firearm would be a better choice than diving in front of the bullets to protect the kids," he said.

There will be no live firing guns in Thursday's class. It's designed to teach handling a weapon "with an emphasis on safety." Also on the curriculum: Utah's laws on firearms and the use of force and federal firearms laws, said Aposhian, who also led an effort in 2002 to have the state allow concealed weapons on the campus of University of Utah.

The Council, the state's leading gun lobby, is waiving its $50 fee for the training. The instruction, featuring plastic guns, was to start Thursday noon in a conference room at Maverick Center, a hockey arena in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Valley.

Utah is among the few states that let people carry licensed concealed weapons into public schools without exception, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported in a 2011 compendium of state gun laws affecting K-12 education. The other states are Hawaii, New Hampshire and Oregon. Delaware, like Ohio, does not prohibit concealed carry on public school property but the school districts may each set their own rules to prohibit firearms.

Parents of Utah schoolchildren have no way to tell which teachers carrying a handgun. By law, Utah gun permit records are closed to the public. In Arizona, where gun permit records are also closed, Attorney General Tom Horne has proposed amending state law to allow one educator in each school to carry a gun.

Earlier this week, The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., a state where records are public, ignited a furor by publishing an online database mapping -- by name and address -- every person with a handgun permit in three counties north of New York City.

The National Rifle Association blasted the newspaper's action as "irresponsible."

Arming teachers is dangerous, Carol Lear, a chief lawyer for the Utah Office of Education, told the Associated Press. She argues teachers could be overpowered for their guns or misfire or cause an accidental shooting.

"It's a horrible, terrible, no-good, rotten idea," Lear said.

In 2008, the Harrold Independent School District Superintendent in Texas thought it was a fine idea.

Now, Superintendent David Thweatt is back in the spotlight, describing and defending their "Guardian Plan." He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday that he didn't want a plan where students "lock yourself in your closet and hope that an intruder won't hurt you. So what we came up with was a policy that would protect."

USA TODAY

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