The Lookout

Teachers flock to gun courses as gun-violence debate heats up

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

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A Utah teacher is shown how to handle a handgun by instructor Clint Simon in West Valley City, Utah. (George Frey/Getty …

Free gun courses aimed at teachers and school administrators in Utah, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio have attracted hundreds of applicants in the wake of the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

The classes provide gun training and a concealed carry license for those who qualify. Gerard Valentino, a co-founder of the Buckeye Firearms advocacy group in Ohio, said more than 900 teachers and administrators have signed up to take the three-day class his organization is offering at the Tactical Defense Institute in West Union, Ohio. Local news reports out of Utah, Texas and North Carolina suggest that hundreds more teachers are undergoing gun training in those states as well.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has sent armed volunteers to patrol areas around about 50 schools this week, and a city council in a small town in Utah is considering passing a resolution that encourages all teachers to carry concealed weapons to schools.

The vast majority of teachers are not allowed to bring weapons to school, training or no training. It's unclear how many school districts allow teachers to carry weapons, but at least one district in Texas and all the districts in Utah do so. A handful of states, including Ohio, do not expressly prohibit guns on school campuses, in theory leaving it up to local governments and school districts to decide. But it doesn't appear that any district in Ohio does allow guns in schools. State lawmakers in Tennessee and other states are weighing legislation to change this, however, and to open up schools to armed teachers.

One middle school teacher in Central Ohio said she decided to sign up for the gun course because in the Newtown shooting, many of the teachers who followed the school's security procedures exactly were still unable to save their kids. "I love my students; they are everything to me," said Carly, who asked that her real name not be used because her school district does not want employees talking about the issue. "I would do anything to protect them. Putting them in a lockdown drill and hiding them in the closet isn't enough. It's time for something to change."

Carly says she could hide her weapon with an ankle or bra holster, so that none of her students will ever know that she's carrying a weapon.

Many have expressed concern and even disbelief at the idea of arming teachers as a way to combat gun violence. The disconnect points to a big split in the way Americans view the problem of gun violence, with one side calling for fewer restrictions on legal gun owners and the other pushing for more restrictions and fewer guns.

“Guns have no place in our schools. Period,” said the presidents of both major teachers' union in a rare joint statement last month. The union heads called the idea "disturbing."

"More guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher," Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, said in a speech on Wednesday.

Vice President Joe Biden said earlier Wednesday that the White House would move quickly to address gun crime and that Obama would turn to executive action if Congress won't cooperate. While Biden didn't outline specifics, many expect Obama to push for more thorough background checks for every gun buyer and possibly a ban on certain kinds of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammo clips. The gun used in the Newtown shooting was an AR-15 type of semi-automatic rifle that was legally purchased by the shooter's mother, according to authorities. It's one of the best-selling guns in the country.

Meanwhile, National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre argues that "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Valentino, the Ohio gun advocate, notes that a school shooter in Pearl, Miss., in 1997 was killed by an assistant principal who ran to his car to get his rifle. If capable teachers were armed, more shooters could be stopped, he said.

According to a recent Christian Science Monitor poll, 64 percent of Americans support an increased police presence at schools. That's the recommendation of school safety expert Ken Trump, who says it's a bad idea for schools to allow teachers to be armed.

"There is a huge difference between having trained, certified and commissioned law enforcement officers who are full-time, career public safety professionals that are armed and assigned the duty of protecting students and staff versus having teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other non-public safety professionals packing a gun in school with hundreds of children," Trump wrote.

Many districts say they can't afford to pay a police officer to be at every school, however. Carly, the Ohio teacher, says her school has only a part-time officer on the premises.

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