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SALT LAKE CITY — Sixty-four percent of Utahns are in support of teachers carrying concealed weapons in school, according to a new poll released by UtahPolicy.com. But those results don't sit well with some law enforcement officials.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank agrees with the 33 percent polled who said kindergarten through 12th grade teachers should not carry concealed weapons in the classroom.
"You're thrusting school teachers into a whole different realm that, again, I believe is outside their responsibility," he said. "I would be much more happy if they were training them to get kids out of the school safely in a timely manner."
The poll surveyed 395 Utahns representing each county in the state. Participants were asked if they thought teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, if they were aware that Utah law allows them to do so without having to tell parents or school administration, and how the presence of a concealed weapon affected school safety.
Those surveyed were also asked if they thought Utah gun laws were too strict, too relaxed or a good balance and if teachers should be required to tell school administration and parents about their concealed weapon.
Burbank said a teacher's responsibility is to care for the students.
"Once they leave to go deal with their firearm and the person who's the perpetrator or causing problems, who's caring for my child in the school?" he said.
Burbank said more guns in the school is not the answer.
"The idea of someone being very poorly trained, if at all, and responding to a situation where children are running around in a chaotic situation, I just, boy, I don't think I buy into that," Burbank said.
But Jolynne Alger, mother of a third-grader and a fifth-grader in the Jordan School District, said she thinks teachers would be able to better protect her children in a serious situation if they carried a concealed weapon.
"Scary things happen at school and it does make me feel a bit better as a parent that teachers could possibly stop it by having a gun," Alger said.
Of those polled, 66 percent also thought that the presence of concealed weapons in kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms would definitely or probably make schools safer.
"They're trying to protect and defend 30 kids or more in a classroom themselves and how do you do that?" Alger said. "I appreciate the fact that some teachers choose to protect themselves and as a result, protect the students."
Alger said often teachers are the first line of defense, and said their constitutional rights are important.
"That was never in their job description to begin with," she said. "We put teachers in a situation, and secretaries and staff, where if something does happen, we don't have any other resources in that school for them."
Danica Holdaway, an eighth grade teacher at Sunset Ridge Middle School, said she personally wouldn't feel comfortable carrying a concealed weapon but would feel safe if she knew other teachers were.
"I would love to know that someone that I trust, one of my teacher friends, had a conceal and carry," she said. "That would make me feel a lot safer."
She doesn't think it's appropriate for every teacher to carry a gun, but she thinks having a few teachers with guns strategically placed would help to keep schools safer.
Because if there ever was a dangerous situation, Holdaway said, any teacher will put themselves in front of a student.
"And how many kids can I protect with my body? Maybe a couple. But if someone were to have a gun, that's going to save lives," she said. "If it's going to save one students life, that's worth it."
Orem City Police Chief Gary Giles said he sees valid points from both sides.
"I'm all for having someone, having more armed good guys," he said. "But at the same time, sometimes it can become a hindrance if they don't know what exactly they're getting into."
He said there needs to be proper gun safety training so that the weapon is secure at all times and that carriers should also be knowledgeable on how law enforcement responds to active shooters.
"Certainly we don't want to enter a school and have somebody with a gun drawn, because that person is automatically going to become the active shooter," he said.
That concern was also echoed by Burbank.
Provo City Police Chief John King said he doesn't think teachers should have concealed weapons in the classroom.
"I don't think it strengthens the learning environment if the teacher has a gun on their hip," he said. "And if they have a gun in their bag, then it's not really secured and some bad things can happen there."
Kjersten Adams with Dan Jones and Associates said 58 percent of females and 69 percent of males were aware that Utah law allows teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom without informing parents or administration. Sixty-four percent of males said the gun laws in Utah strike a good balance, and 51 percent of females agreed.