More than 200 Utah teachers are expected to pack a convention hall on Thursday for six hours of concealed-weapons training as organizers seek to arm more educators in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting.
The Utah Shooting Sports Council said it normally gathers a dozen teachers every year for instruction that's required to legally carry a concealed weapon in public places. The state's leading gun lobby decided to offer teachers the training at no charge to encourage turnout, and it worked.
Organizers who initially capped attendance at 200 were exceeding that number by Wednesday and scrambling to accommodate an overflow crowd.
"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," Clark Aposhian, one of Utah's leading gun instructors, said Wednesday. "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 a monster," said Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. "They should lock down the classroom. But a gun is one more option if the shooter comes in."
A major emphasis of the required 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.
"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."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com