Utah teachers practice responding to school shootings with guns

July 9, 2019

By

Matthew Hoy

While most schoolteachers are spending the summer doing some well-earned relaxation (really, some of your kids are pains in the butt), teachers and other school employees in Utah are undergoing firearms training aimed at preventing the next mass shooting in their schools.

Active shooter training for educators is becoming more common nationwide, and Utah is one of several states that generally allow permit holders to carry guns in public schools. Other states, including Florida and Texas, have programs that allow certain teachers to be armed if they are approved under a set of stipulations.

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith said the popularity of concealed carry permits in Utah makes such trainings even more important. About half the teachers brought their own handguns to the shooting range.

“If teachers are going to be bringing firearms into schools, let’s make sure they know how to handle them safely,” Smith said.

At least 39 states require lockdown, active-shooter or similar safety drills, according to the Education Commission of the States. Other states have less explicit requirements or leave it to districts. Utah requires its elementary schools to conduct at least one safety drill each month, and its secondary schools to have detailed emergency response plans. The firearm training is voluntary, but the Utah County Sheriff’s Teachers Academy already has a waiting list for its next four-week program.

Despite scare stories about teachers accidentally (or even purposefully) discharging their firearms in those states that allow school employees to be armed, none have resulted in the death of students.

Sandy Grow, a special needs educator at a Lehi middle school, said the massacres at Parkland and Sandy Hook left her feeling unsafe at work. A gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year. In 2012, 20 children and six educators were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“The idea of being trapped in a classroom with my students and not being able to protect them bothered me,” she said. “I want to defend them and keep them safe, not be a sitting duck.”

Mike Ericksen thinks a lot about how to keep students safe at Mountain View High School, where he’s the principal and his son is a student. In 2016, before he began working there, five students were stabbed in the boys’ locker room.

Reloading his handgun for target practice, Ericksen said the training has left him better prepared to fight back if someone threatens his school.

“I’m more confident in my skills and what to do if something happens,” he said. “I’m not as nervous now. I can help.”

Schools boasting armed staff and/or teachers generally don't become targets for school shooters, according to research from John Lott Jr.'s Crime Prevention Research Center.

An inconvenient chart:

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