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SANDY — A shooting mishap at an elementary school in Taylorsville is rekindling the debate over teachers and guns in schools. Some parents expressed concerns over the idea, but districts emphasize they're simply complying with state law, while warning teachers they're on their own if something goes bad.
A sixth-grade teacher at Westbrook Elementary School, 3451 W. 6200, accidentally shot herself Thursday while inside a faculty bathroom. No students witnessed the shooting, and no one else was hurt, but that didn't seem to ease parents' concerns about teachers and guns.
“I just don’t believe it’s a place for teachers to be carrying concealed weapons or weapons to the campus,” said Brad Myers.
“You’ve got so many kids around, they’re going to find a way to get ahold of it or get hurt by it,” Mike Heaton said.
But worries or not, school districts' hands are tied when it comes to concealed weapons permit holders. By law, concealed weapons permit holders can bring guns onto school grounds and school districts aren’t allowed to ask who has a permit.
HOLLADAY — At the Rain6 firearm training facility, co-founder James Story trains gun owners to safely handle their firearm. He has created a course designed solely for teachers.
"As a parent myself, I'd love to know that all my teachers are carrying (guns) — as long as they are properly trained," Story said.
The threat a gunman poses in a classroom is much different than outside the school, he said.
Armed teachers should know a plan of action: how to identify where the threat is, where there are safety zones such as a bathroom, and how long until police arrive.
"If you make the decision to carry, make the decision to take on the responsibility to become confident, proficient and most importantly very safe with that firearm," Story said.
One way to know if you are prepared to handle a gun, he said, is to learn from an experienced trainer and allow them to determine when you're ready.
“We don’t ask, just basically follow the state law — which includes that they can carry it should they choose to do so,” said Jeff Christensen, assistant legal counsel for the Canyons School District.
However, the Canyons District does caution all its teachers “if they are carrying a concealed weapons permit, they’re doing it in their personal capacity that’s outside the scope of their employment,” Christensen said.
The policies are similar in a number of other Wasatch Front school districts.
The Jordan School District policy also states use of concealed weapons is "contrary to the purposes of employment by the district." Other districts, like Nebo, train teachers that they could be held liable for damages if something goes wrong involving their gun.
“We’re concerned about students’ safety and would like to see that, in all cases, students are kept safe,” Christensen said.
“That’s our position,” said Bill Peterson, with the Utah Shooting Sports Council, “is to keep kids safe in school.”
The council has sponsored mass training sessions for teachers to arm them against potential mass shooters.
“They go in with a preconceived idea of what they’re going to try to accomplish; and if we can thwart that in a way, we can save a lot of lives,” Peterson said.
Utah appears to be in a majority of states that allow people to carry guns into schools in some form or another: a recent USA Today analysis found 28 states allow it; seven states specifically name teachers and other school staff members as people allowed to carry guns.
Contributing: Devon Dolan