Guns in the classroom

Officials in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are discussing whether teachers should carry firearms in schools.

Idaho Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, can see both pros and cons to allowing teachers and administrators to have guns at school.

But after listening to 911 tapes from shootings that took place at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech as part of a recent emergency training for the senate, he said he’s finding more validity to the argument.

“You really felt the helplessness of those in those situations,” Guthrie said. “You could see how the passion gets stirred (up to find a) way to level the playing field if we can.”

Although he’s not aware of any proposed legislation giving Idaho teachers the ability to have a gun at school, he thinks the discussion will end up on the table eventually.

Some school districts have already moved forward with limited policies of their own.

Most recently, a school district in north-central Idaho decided to allow some teachers to be trained and armed.

The Lewiston Tribune reports that Mountain View School District in Grangeville, a city in Idaho County, approved a policy allowing staff members who elect to be trained as district security officers to act as an armed line of defense in the case of an emergency. The staff members will be allowed to carry a concealed firearm.

Superintendent Kent Stokes says after months of editing, the policy the board approved is solid. He says the next step is to seriously vet any staff members who are interested in volunteering to be a part of the policy.

The remote Garden Valley School District in Boise County also has some trained employees who have access to firearms.

While Pocatello High School Principal Lisa Delonas recognizes that there are some areas of the country where arming teachers may make sense for safety reasons, she personally isn’t comfortable with the idea and she doesn’t think it’s really necessary here.

“I think that’s probably pushing it a little far,” she said.

Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, agrees that there are pros and cons to allowing teachers to be armed, but she also believes it’s something school districts should be able to approve if they are comfortable with it and the parameters they set.

“I think we should give districts maximum flexibility to make those decisions,” VanOrden said.

The National Rifle Association thinks all options should be considered when it comes to protecting children, according to its National School Shield website.

“When a threat occurs, a quick and timely response by law enforcement professionals is what everyone hopes for. However, in these situations — when time is clearly of the essence — we strongly believe that trained school personnel can also serve a vital role,” the website states. “As the first to face the threat, they can lead and implement protocols designed to save lives.”

Lawmakers in both Montana and Wyoming have recently considered bills allowing teachers to be armed.

The Montana House discussed a proposal to allow full-time school employees who met certain shooting standards to carry concealed weapons in classrooms and on school property, but ultimately voted it down.

Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, who was behind the measure, said during a half-hour debate that an average school shooting lasts only three minutes, leaving little time for police to react.

“Who’s going to be able to respond in time to stop a shooting that happens in three minutes?” Berglee said. “The only person is going to be someone who is in that school.”

An FBI study of active-shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that 44 of 63 shootings in which the duration could be determined ended in five minutes or less. Twenty-three of those ended in two minutes or less, according to the study.

But lawmakers who voted against the bill noted that their constituents have been vocal in their opposition of it. Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, said 1,189 people contacted lawmakers about the bill by phone or through the Legislature’s messaging system, with 1,109 people against it and 80 for it.

That does not include people who contacted lawmakers directly, she said.

“Our constituents, the people who sent us here, don’t want this,” Funk said.

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen believes it’s important for school districts to have community and staff support if they decide to implement such a policy. And he doesn’t think anyone who is uncomfortable with a gun should try to use one.

Like many others, Nielsen thinks there are valid reasons to both allowing and banning guns.

He agrees that active-shooter emergencies can play out quickly.

“One thing I’ve noticed whenever I’ve studied those massacres is that as soon as the police showed up with guns, they ended,” he said, adding that someone who can intervene can help stop it.

Still, he says a gun is only as good as the person who holds it. Those who use them need to know more than how to pull the trigger. They have to be willing to shoot when necessary and they have to be able to hit what they’re aiming at, he said.

“You need to know your surroundings, know where your bullet is going, and you don’t shoot into crowds,” he said.

Nielsen believes that teachers and administrators who carry concealed weapons should have ongoing training to keep their skills up. He also says it’s important to ensure students can’t access the weapons.

Although Nielsen has some concerns about bringing guns into schools, he also thinks it can be a bad idea to ban the weapons completely.

“I have a rough time saying (there should be) gun-free zones because that’s also an opportunity for somebody to know they will not be challenged,” Nielsen said.

In Wyoming, a pair of bills allowing teachers to carry guns at school and citizens to take them into government meetings may soon head to the desk of Gov. Matt Mead.

Gun advocates in the state Legislature finally got the critical mass needed for both new gun-carry measures after several years of trying.

Conjecture about the need for guns in Wyoming schools recently garnered national attention. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, under questioning from Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi during her confirmation hearing, suggested an elementary school in the tiny community of Wapiti might want to keep a gun handy to protect students from grizzly bears.

In the early 2000s, school officials working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department installed a tall fence to keep grizzlies off the grounds of the K-5 school.

Under one of the bills, a school official would need to have a concealed-carry permit and school board permission to take a gun to school. They would need to either carry it at all times or keep it in a locked box under direct control.