Teachers and guns

Mass shootings at schools and college campuses have led to a discussion of the wisdom of arming teachers in hopes of preventing the attacks or ending them sooner.

Every time a mass shooting occurs at a K-12 school or on a college campus, people wonder what could have been done to stop the massacre sooner or prevent it altogether.

While some believe tighter gun controls are the answer, others believe the best solution comes in giving more people — like teachers and administrators — more training and more access to firearms that can save lives as well as take them away.

“Our organization wholeheartedly believes the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Greg Pruett, president of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance.

He says criminals don’t pay attention to gun laws or signs declaring schools gun-free zones. And he thinks teachers and college students should have the right to defend themselves should they encounter one of those people.

Others appear to agree with him.

According to a Deseret News article, the Utah Shooting Sports Council recently offered a free concealed-weapons class for teachers.

“A shooter who wants to end his life via suicide, but take a whole bunch of other people with him, probably wants to pick a place to exact that evil plan without getting return fire,” Clark Aposhian, chairman of the council told the Deseret News. “We are hoping to show that Utah schools and universities are not a place to do that.”

A small school district in Garden Valley, Idaho, which is roughly 45 minutes away from the nearest law enforcement officers, took things a step further earlier this year. Limited funds prevented officials there from hiring police officers to patrol the building during school hours, so they decided to purchase guns that would remain locked inside the school and train six employees to use the weapons in an emergency.

But others aren’t so sure that arming teachers is the best idea.

Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand said he has no problem with people getting concealed weapons permits, and he thinks gun safety training is always a good idea. However, he also believes that it takes a lot of training to be able to make appropriate decisions and hit the right target — especially when there may be a lot of other people around — in an emergency.

“It’s bigger than just having a firearm and the responsibility is huge,” he said, adding that the person shooting is held accountable for every shot they fire. “Whether it hits or misses or goes down range a mile, (you’re) still responsible for it.”

Marchand said he knows a lot of teachers who are great people, but he doesn’t think any of them really want that kind of responsibility.

In Pocatello, they opted to install gun safes in local schools so the resource officers who work there could quickly access rifles and ammunition in an emergency, Marchand said. They also use the safes for storing evidence, which has proven another benefit.

Tom VanDeren, president of the Pocatello Education Association, says he is confident in the school resource officers’ ability to help in an emergency. Although he doesn’t feel like he has enough information to say whether he is for or against arming teachers as well, he does have some concerns about the idea.

He said guns need to be loaded and easily accessible to be beneficial in an emergency, but that presents a lot of other safety concerns. He’s not sure that bringing more guns to school is the best answer.

Still, Pruett said there are many devices out there in which people can safely store guns and prevent people who aren’t supposed to use them from doing so.

“There’s a common misconception that if you arm a teacher they will have a gun sitting on top of their desk,” he said.

David Kerns, interim superintendent of Snake River School District, said he’s not aware of any talk about arming teachers there. But they do work closely with the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office and train staff on how to deal with active shooter situations.

He said a recent survey of the senior class showed that students felt absolutely safe at school.

“That survey says a lot to me,” he said.

However, he knows that school shootings across the nation always increase concerns about school safety.

“With every one that happens, the level of concern gets a little higher each time,” he said.

And the best way to deal with that concern continues to be open to a lot of debate.

Still, Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, says education employees are hired to deliver instructional excellence.

“We believe that a safe and effective school climate is necessary for promoting educational excellence in public schools. The IEA believes that all students and education employees must be allowed to learn and work in an environment free from unauthorized guns and other deadly weapons. A safe and effective school is one where everyone—employees, students, parents/guardians, and the community care for, communicate with, respect, understand, and trust each other,” she said in an emailed statement. “While every education employee understands his/her responsibility for the safety and security of their students, the IEA believes that the law enforcement officials who are hired to protect our communities also have the responsibility to assist in assuring the safety of our public schools, and are best equipped to do so.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.