While PA Argues, UT Arms School Teachers

Utah teachers are in school this summer, getting training for active shooter scenarios at the Utah County Sheriff’s Teachers Academy. (Photo: NBC4i)

Many schools have school police officers or school resource officers who may carry a gun on the school grounds. Alternatively, some districts employ security officers who may or may not be armed. The debate raging now is whether teachers or administrators should be allowed to carry guns at school. With a spike in gun-related incidents at schools in 2018, it’s not surprising that some teachers and admins want the option to carry a weapon.

Note: This is not a graph of “school shootings” exclusively, but of all incidents involving firearms on school grounds. As we’ve previously reported, school shootings are not on the rise and schools are safer today than they were in the ’90s. (Source: Riedman, David, and Desmond O’Neill. “CHDS – K-12 School Shooting Database.” Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Download the data here.)

Pennsylvania residents recently learned that some administrators are already carrying guns at school, but it wasn’t made public. Attorney Ronald Repak represents about 50 school districts in Pennsylvania. He reported to WHYY.org that he has worked to help a few superintendents carry a gun at school.

“I will tell you, you probably don’t know who these individuals are, but they are carrying concealed weapons within the school districts because of our petition,” Repak said.

Opponents of teachers and administrators carrying weapons are shocked to learn that some already carry. For some reason, these opponents are called “education advocates.” Edward Albert, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools, and a previous superintendent is dubious about the efficacy of superintendents carrying a gun.

“Let’s just say there’s a guy that goes into a school and starting shooting somebody. The superintendent shows up, shoots the guy and kills the guy, and saves a hundred lives. I think people are going to be happy but they’re going to say, ‘We didn’t know he had a gun. Why weren’t we told that? If we weren’t told that, what else aren’t we being told?'” said Albert.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed SB 621 to authorize non-police security guards to carry weapons. “The students, parents, and educators in this commonwealth can now be secure in the knowledge that teachers can dedicate themselves to teaching our children, and that the security of school facilities rests in the hands of trained, professional security personnel,” he said in a statement.

The Tamaqua, PA school board had previously approved a policy that would allow trained teachers to carry weapons. Board president Larry Wittig told the Times-News Lehighton that they have rescinded that policy, but they have not given up on the idea.

SEE ALSO: Academics Find School Shootings Are Not More Common Than They Used to Be

“We will at some point be working on something that will comply with the law as it’s presently written. I just want to stress that the law does not, contrary to what the governor may have said, does not specifically preclude a staff member from going through the training and carrying.” said Wittig. The idea is that the training would essentially make the teachers into security guards and fit the wording of the law.

Wittig continued, “The utmost importance here is the legitimate safety of the students, not a cosmetic safety of the students. Not something that makes adults feel good about it. To that extent, we’ll be working very hard to make sure our solicitor agrees with the direction we’re going and we’re taking guidance from him and a lot of other input as well.”

Utah Trains While Others Argue

As the debate continues in Pennsylvania, Utah teachers are being trained to use guns in active shooter situations. Their training at the Utah County Sheriff’s Teachers Academy looks a lot like the kind of thing provided to police, though not as long or extensive.

The Associated Press reports that 31 teachers gathered for training with police. They were taught in a warehouse with false walls and furniture to mimic a school. Officers acted as invaders and the teachers were taught how to secure their classroom and defend themselves with their handguns.

These teachers must have a permit to carry a firearm. Florida and Texas are some of the other states that also allow teachers to meet certain requirements and carry guns in schools. The trained teachers feel more in control and less fearful about their situation.

Sandy Grow, a special needs educator at a middle school in Lehi, says she felt unsafe at work after the shootings at Sandy Hook and Parkland. “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.”

Principal Mike Eriksen’s school had five boys stabbed in a locker room before he worked there. His son is now a student at the same school, and Eriksen says the training helps him feel safer.

“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.”

SEE ALSO: Exclusive: When Seconds Count, Armed Teachers Offer Unique Advantages Over Resource Officers

Teachers trained in the warehouse scenarios as well as on the shooting range with live ammunition. The training is voluntary and costs $20. Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith oversees the training academy. “If teachers are going to be bringing firearms into schools, let’s make sure they know how to handle them safely,” Smith said.

Smith told the Daily Herald, “I believe it is important to continue to train and provide training to our teachers. Anything we can do to keep our children safe is worth putting in the time, effort and resources.”

“As a police officer, we’re emergency responders,” Smith said, “[Teachers], really, they’re the first responders because when it happens they’re there, they’re the first ones there.”

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About the author: Levi Sim is an avid hunter, and an increasingly avid shooter. He strives to make delicious and simple recipes from the game he kills. He makes a living as a professional photographer, writer, and photography instructor. Check out his work and he’d love to connect on Instagram: @outdoorslevi

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • john July 14, 2019, 11:16 am

    In the video Christy Belt puts it in a nutshell.Excellent statement.My problem is her retrieving the handgun from an open desk drawer in the training video.In real life that drawer would have to be locked in a classroom.Much better to have on her person at all times.The teachers MUST be extra vigilant about keeping the gun under their control at all times.All it would take is for a student to misuse a teachers gun and all this will me a moot point.

  • SK Eagle Markman Trainer July 13, 2019, 12:15 am

    I am glade see that our teacher are Learning how to protect our Children and themselves with proper training and mind set I do feel they have right to be arms I hope Media and Public understands that Safely of teachers who carry should be not Broadcast !

  • Pseudo July 12, 2019, 1:30 pm

    Not being nit picking here, but in the photo shown at the start of the video I would just like to know what is being shown? I see no semblance of a proper grip technique I am aware of, thus my inquiry here.

  • John Bibb July 12, 2019, 12:44 pm

    Thank you for your service protecting us, “ex” Officer!

  • John Bibb July 12, 2019, 12:43 pm

    The best, simplest, and most economical choice on how to provide some real protection for schools. Some background history checks and a psychological evaluation of the mental stability and judgement of the armed teachers / personnel candidates should also be done before allowing them into this program.
    I was surprised on how hard it was to get some pilots armed after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. This concept turned into a political football. Any pilot can kill all of the people on board by crashing the plane if he wants to do so anyway. Most people competent enough to fly a plane should be armed. Not too much skill needed to shoot an attacker in the cockpit doorway if they can break in there.

  • MikG July 12, 2019, 11:50 am

    If you don’t like guns, don’t buy one. We won’t harass you. But leave us alone. If you carry concealed, no one knows, especially the bad guy. It should be obvious by now, even to a chipmunk, that “gun free zones” are perfect places for a mass shooting. That sign literally invites a massacre. I cannot conceive why these people do not want their child to be safe and secure at school. A responding police officer usually arrives after the incident and has to pick up the pieces. I should know, I’m a retired police officer.

  • G.O.A. Patriot July 12, 2019, 10:23 am

    It’s about time some common sense emerged in our public school systems! Now if the rest of the United States educators would get their heads out of their butts and follow this example???

  • KennethAmerica July 12, 2019, 9:23 am

    Thanks for the informative article. I do have one nit to pick though.

    You wrote, “Sandy Grow, a special needs educator at a middle school in Lehi, says she felt unsafe at work after the shootings at Sandyhook and Parkside.” Of course you meant Sandy Hook and Parkland ??

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