Concealed Carry in Utah Schools

There has been a lot of talk and media attention regarding the subject of arming Utah teachers and staff. We think an in-depth understanding of all the issues is necessary to really consider whether this is the best option, or if there are better options to keep our children safe at school.

Arming Teachers

Guns In Utah Schools

Recent polls indicate that the idea of arming teachers in Utah (as of January 2013) has majority support. However, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, 82 percent of poll respondents also indicated that parents should have a right to know if their child's teacher will be carrying a firearm. Percentages of support for gun issues here (as in the rest of the nation) vary between men and women, and there also is a sizable polling difference on gun issues between the two major political parties. Those with lower education levels in Utah support arming teachers in the highest numbers. As education level increases, there is less support for the idea. 

Consider the Possible Consequences

Many outcomes and possibilities are not thoroughly discussed in the media. It is important to remember that not only teachers and staff are allowed to carry guns in school zones, but anyone with a concealed weapons permit, including parents, grandparents, volunteers, janitors, etc. And it is not hard to obtain a concealed weapons permit. A background check is required, but no hands-on training and the class is only 2-3 hours.

While many of us believe we are very responsible gun owners, there are also many people who do not take the same precautions. Some leave loaded handguns in their home and are not nearly as concerned if they are accessible to teenagers or even young chilrden. And even the best of us makes mistakes, especially when we are busy, distracted or overwhelmed.

Teachers and faculty at our schools have legitimately high levels of responsibility without having to account for and manage guns in the classroom. According to the Utah Department of Health: "For every one time a gun in a home was used in self-defense, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and eleven attempted or completed suicides."

We realize a school is not a home, but there are no studies or numbers on the issues, and Utah was the first state to allow guns in schools. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. Also, the child to adult ratio at school is much higher than it is at home. And Utah has higher than average class sizes compared to other states.

In a study of gun-owning Americans with children under 18, 21.7% stored a gun loaded, 31.5% stored a gun unlocked and 8.3% stored at least 1 gun unlocked and loaded. 40% of firearm owners with adolescents 13 through 17 years of age report leaving their firarms unlocked 41.7% of the time, compared with only 28.8% of household firearm owners with children 0 through 12 years of age. [AAP.org Firearms Injuries Affecting The Pediatric Population 10/18/12]

Guns are brought to school with alarming regularity, even by young children. Some bring them to school to show them to friends, others to confront a bully or to bully someone themselves. By the time guns make it to school, unless someone was warned or has time to report it, it can be too late. Accidents also happen quite regularly. Violent altercations and fatal shootings between faculty members also occur. And most of these incidents happen before an armed teacher could possibly intervene.

Even suicide with a gun happens at schools in the U.S. and Utah. Consider the Taylorsville 14 year old who shot himself just outside his own Bennion Junior High School in November of 2012. [SL Tribune 11/30/12]

Click here for a list of major school shootings since 1997

Firearm Accuracy Requires Continuous Training

Many here are quick to say and think that arming teachers will protect our children. But by the time guns are fired at school, it is often too late. Even if a teacher has enough time or the position to draw a gun, consider that accuracy is not nearly as easy as it looks on TV or in video games. Even police officers, who undergo continuous training only hit their intended target 18% of the time. [Time Magazine 1/16/14] In a crisis, many officers don't remember if they hit their target, or if they even pulled the trigger at all. That is the power of fear and adrenaline.

Our local Holladay Chief of Police told us recently that schools were never built with gunfire in mind. Bullets penetrate walls and doors. The innocent victims caught in the crossfire would of course be our children. We need to be focusing on stronger methods of prevention, on keeping guns out of our schools.

Explore these links for more information on shooting accuracy in a crisis:

Time Magazine, 'Your Brain in a Shootout: Guns, Fear and Flawed Instincts,' Amanda Ripley, 1/16/13

ABC News 20/20 Diane Sawyer investigates how ordinary and even trained people respond when attacked with guns (Video) 

NPR 'Armed Good Guys, and the Realities of Facing a Gunman,' Martin Kaste, 1/29/13 (Audio)

What Professional Organizations Say About Guns in Schools

Many of us will admit we don't perfectly follow the recommendations of the Academy of Pediatrics or follow every bit of our doctor's advice. BUT, when it comes to making policies that will apply to the health and safety of all the students in Utah, we take these recommendations very seriously, and we think our state legislature should as well.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states, "The absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents." [AAP policy statment]

The Utah Education Association (UEA) aligns its policy with the National Education Association saying, "Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees." 

Do we know better than professional boards of doctors and educators? Also, consider than you can buy a semi-automatic through the classified ads without a background check. Are ciminals and sociopaths really going to be discouraged by the possibility of handguns at school? It is important to weigh risks appropriately without emotion. Are the risks of a school shooting greater than the risks posed by having concealed weapons around young children and adolescents? And how often can an armed adult realistically and safely intervene? 

We think it would be dangerously irresponsible not to focus our attention on laws and safeguards that prevent situations that put our children in the midst of potential crossfire. Also, the Utah State Legislature has taken away the right of parents to choose or even know if guns are in their children's classrooms. This is at the very least totally unfair.

Utah Parents Against Gun Violence aligns itself with the UEA and NEA in saying we must do everything possible to keep guns off of school property. Guns have no place in our schoos. They present an added danger unequal to their proposed benefit.