Classroom teachers could stop school shootings by carrying concealed weapons, say gun-rights advocates who plan to offer the required training Thursday for 200 Utah teachers.
The Utah Shooting Sports Council said it would waive its $50 fee for concealed-weapons training for the teachers. Instruction featuring plastic guns is set to begin at noon Thursday inside a conference room at Maverick Center, a hockey arena in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Valley.
It's an idea gaining traction in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting. In Ohio, the Buckeye Firearms Association said it was launching a test program in tactical firearms training for 24 teachers initially.
"Schools are some of the safest places in the world, but I think teachers understand that something has changed — the sanctity of schools has changed," said Clark Aposhian, one of Utah's leading gun instructors. "Mass shootings may still be rare, but that doesn't help you when the monster comes in."
Gun-rights advocates say teachers can act more quickly than law enforcement in the critical first few minutes to protect children from the kind of shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In Arizona, Attorney General Tom Horne has proposed amending state law to allow one educator in each school to carry a gun.
Educators say Utah legislators left them with no choice but to accept some guns in schools. State law forbids schools, districts or college campuses from trying to impose their own gun restrictions.
"We're not suggesting that teachers roam the halls" for an armed intruder, said Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the state's leading gun lobby. "They should lock down the classroom. But a gun is one more option if the shooter" breaks into a classroom.
A major emphasis of the safety training is that people facing deadly threats should announce they have a gun and retreat or take cover before trying to shoot, he said.
Utah is among few states that let people carry licensed concealed weapons into public schools without exception, the National Conference of State Legislatures says in a 2012 compendium of state gun laws.
Utah educators say they would ban guns if they could and have no way of knowing how many teachers are armed. Gun-rights advocates estimate that 1 percent of Utah teachers or 240 are licensed to carry concealed weapons. It's not known how many pack guns at school.
"It's a terrible idea," said Carol Lear, a chief lawyer for the Utah Office of Education, who argues teachers could be overpowered for their guns or misfire or cause an accidental shooting. "It's a horrible, terrible, no-good, rotten idea."