Utah law allows for armed teachers, but are they comfortable packing?

Stock image | Image from pixabay, pistol added, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – While discussion and debate is had across the county on either the virtue or fallacy of arming teachers as a way to prevent school shootings, if you’re an educator in Utah and you’re a concealed carry permit holder, you can pack a firearm on campus.

Just as Utah law restricts universities and colleges from creating policies restricting concealed firearms on campus, neither can school districts, said Steve Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District.

“We can’t even ask them if they’re carrying,” Dunham said.

And how does school district Superintendent Larry Bergeson feel about the idea of concealed carry on school grounds?

I feel that we should support the current state law which allows teachers, if they choose on their own, to have and maintain a concealed carry permit at their discretion,” Bergeson said in an email to St. George News.

Read more: From better background checks to mental health, Herbert, lawmakers consider ways to prevent school shootings

The question about armed teachers took center stage – along with other topics concerning school safety and gun control – thanks in part to President Donald Trump who said he supports having armed educators.

“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” Trump tweeted Feb. 24. “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”

The idea has met with resistance, such as from Lily Eskaleen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.

Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” Garcia said in a statement in response to Trump. “… Educators need to be focused on teaching our students. We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”

Still, a teacher has the opportunity to become a concealed carry permit holder in Utah if they so choose. The question may be if they would actually do it.

“I wouldn’t feel very comfortable with that,” said Anisa Scholes, a teacher at Dixie Middle School.

If a disturbed student knows she has a gun on her, they might attempt to overpower her and take it, Scholes said. As well, she wondered if she’d even be able to use the gun.

Scholes said she may not have the fortitude to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger.

I don’t know if I’d be mentally prepared for that,” she said.

Part of being a concealed carry permit holder is asking yourself: “Do I have the ability to kill somebody?” It was a point made by the instructor of a concealed carry class St. George News covered in 2013.

Read more: Editorial: Concealed carry; it’s no small decision

In some cases, the one perpetrating the shooting at a school may be a student.

“You have to come to grips with that,” said Kay Pierce, who worked as an office secretary at Dixie Middle School for over 30 years. Pierce supports the idea of having armed teachers. Why?

“Because they are the first ones out there who will contact the shooter,” she said, adding she also understands not all teachers would be comfortable with the idea.

However, there should be a plan in place on how to respond to a school shooting. There should also be lessons and help for teachers who would choose to carry a concealed weapon on campus, Pierce said.

The school district does have plans in place concerning active shooter scenarios. It, like other districts, also holds mock school shooting incidents that law enforcement agencies participate in.

Among the plans and procedures Scholes favors is the school having just one entry open during school hours as well as additional surveillance and security keeping tabs on people who enter the school.

Julie Cordero, a teacher at Desert Hills Middle School, also isn’t so keen on the concept of being armed as it it is just one more thing a teacher will be expected to deal with on top of being an educator. Instead, she favors there being better communication between teachers from appropriate sources if they have a student in their class they need to watch out for.

There has to be more diligence about communicating with teachers,” Cordero said.

Read more: Utah House committee rejects gun control measure

Daniel Cluff, a science teacher at Pine View Middle School, also voiced concerns about having an additional, potential strain put on teachers by asking them to carry a firearm.

“You have to be a development specialist, you have to be a child specialist, you have to be a legal expert – and now we want you to be armed and be a tactical officer,” Cluff said. “And by the way, how much do you get paid a year?”

It becomes a question of priority, he said.

Among the concerns of there being armed teachers on campus is the question of how responding law enforcement knows who the shooter is and who isn’t.

I now have a (school resource officer) that’s roaming the halls and he doesn’t know I’m armed,” Cluff said. “I don’t want to put him in that position.”

This is a scenario police chiefs have brought up with the school district.

“I know that some local police chiefs have expressed concerns that if they are coming to a school on a call with an armed intruder, they would engage whomever they find that is armed at the school,” Superintendent Bergeson said. “This could have the potential to be doubly tragic if that person is a teacher who is armed.”

As to that concern, Bergeson said he would defer to law enforcement on how best to handle and avoid such a situation.

“Again, I would defer to our local law enforcement who have proven their trustworthiness in this matter,” Bergeson said. “We have well trained school resource officers (SROs) in every secondary school in the District. They are practiced and prepared and we would not want to do anything to impede them in their efforts. In short, we trust our SROs completely.”

Read more: Letter to the Editor: As a teacher, school shootings won’t go away by taking guns nor giving us more

An elementary school teacher of 30 years, Kurt Ivie said he favors measures that could be taken on the legislative level to help curb school gun violence, like improving background checks and raising age requirements on certain gun purchases as well as revamping mental health care.

Nevertheless,” Ivie said, “the absolute truth is, a person that is set on violence will find a way.”

“If there were a highly adept, police-trained, prepared, competent and responsible teacher on campus that could distract, detain or discourage an armed intruder during this time and potentially save lives, well,” he said, “this is a discussion, debate or argument that needs to happen.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Craig March 7, 2018 at 8:52 am

    People are incorrect claiming gun free zones are safe or guns cannot deter violence.

    Israel lives with near daily violence. In 1974, there was a school shooting. As a result, teachers were trained and armed. Two more attempted shootings ended with two dead criminals. They’ve had no attempts in 44 years. Our nation is so different I’m not convinced an analogy holds true, but it’s interesting to look at their outcome because it’s logical.

    However, I wish instead that we would look at what’s changed in the last 30 years during which the overwhelming majority of mass shootings/school shootings have occurred.

    The only meaningful change is our values. Look at the staggering changes. To me, what’s shocking is that we are surprised these mass shootings are happening.

    We prefer to claim fewer guns will fix it or more guns will fix it or more laws will fix it. Until we look in the mirror and realize we must fix our values, everything else is just patchwork to make us feel we demanded something useful.

  • DRT March 7, 2018 at 9:02 am

    I don’t see the big debate here. If a teacher is trained and comfortable carrying a gun, fine. It could save one heck of a lot of lives. OTOH, if a teacher is not comfortable with it, the teacher isn’t going to be “forced” into it.
    What I see here, is just more of the “take away all guns” crowd using this as a platform.

  • Kevin March 7, 2018 at 9:31 am

    This article sounds as if it were written by gun control groups. Is there any such thing as balanced reporting at the SGN?

    • Blaine March 7, 2018 at 6:36 pm

      It was either written/influenced by gun-control activists or written by someone who hasn’t govern much serious thought to the subject of self-defense. Journalism is dead.

  • Brian March 7, 2018 at 10:25 am

    There seems to be an attitude with some teachers and the NEA of “You want to force me to carry a gun with everything else I’m already doing?”, to which this answer is obviously NO! We want to support teachers that want to carry a gun and want to defend their students and don’t want to just huddle in a corner and cross their fingers like every teacher and student in Florida had to do. We want to give willing teachers a significant amount of training and give them the option of being armed. If they want to carry on their person, fine. If they want to have a hidden gun safe in their room that is secure, fine.

    It’s absolutely ridiculous that our schools are STILL soft targets and advertised as such! But having a single SRO is NOT enough, and paying to put 3 or 4 full time guards in each building would cost $50+ billion PER YEAR. Just the SRO’s already cost $10+ billion per year. You already have competent adults all over that building that already get paid to get specialized training of all sorts during the summer. Some of them are going to want to get trained to protect themselves and their student. Pay for the training, pay for the time they’re at training, and pay for their gun safe. Make it public knowledge that the school is NOT a soft target.

    The security industry has known forever that a little deterrent is often all it takes to avoid being a target. And in many (if not most) cases these shooters only have to encounter mild resistance before they surrender or kill themselves, either of which brings the situation to an end.

    • comments March 7, 2018 at 11:48 am

      In our modern heavily armed country it really is time to eliminate the ease of which massacres can be carried out on “soft targets”. Force will need to be met with force if we are able to maintain our 2nd amendment. Schools, libraries, churches, sporting events, etc etc will need to have more protections, i.e. more citizens carrying sidearms. No more cowardly SRO’s or relying on cowardly or apathetic gov’t police forces.

      The only cure for a degenerate psychopath is euthanasia. Unfortunately, many of them were born that way.

  • PatriotLiberal March 7, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    it seems that as a society, we are mnot even trying to confront this issue. My spouse is a teacher and a hardcore supporter of gun rights. She was raised and is trained in their use. She is not comfortable carrying a gun in the classroom. Her arguments echo those of Ms. Scholes.

    It seems that, as a scoiety, we are not even trying to confront the problem. We are cowering down. What we should be doing is making it extremely hard for people to get guns legally. Right-wingers seem to have a problem with background checks. Why? What do you have to hide?

    There is a difference between Gun “Control” and “Confiscation”. Control is controlling who gets what type of gun or even IF they get a gun. Confiscation means that someone takes the guns you already own away from you. No one wants to confiscate your guns, so long as you are law abiding citizen. I want to make it as hard as possible for the scumbags among us to get a gun. If that means that I have to pass a comprehensive background check to buy one myself, so be it.

    Will background checks and other control methods prevent a smart criminal with the will power and money from getting a gun? Nope. But it does make it EXTREMELY HARD for them to get it legally.

    Fortunately most criminals aren’t that smart or wealthy.

    • comments March 7, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      The background checks are only as good as the data reported on them. A felony or conviction of domestic abuse are the main disqualifiers. The way that non-voluntary mental heath stays are reported is a lot more murky. The psychopath Cruz had been in trouble plenty of times, but there wasn’t enough in the database to disqualify him, so he passed with flying colors and bought the gun legally. The psychopath that did the church massacre would have been disqualified from purchasing, but the USAF failed to report his offenses to the database– apathy or competence on the part of the gov’t, you decide. They psychopath that did the vegas massacre also did not have anything to disqualify him. Background checks will only catch the dumbest and most obvious criminals.

      • comments March 7, 2018 at 1:18 pm

        Not to mention how many forewarnings and ‘red flags’ the gov’t had about Cruz. That’s right, let’s depend on big daddy gov’t to protect us. Seems they’ll lead the sheep right to the slaughter.

    • Brian March 7, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      That’s absolutely fine that your wife doesn’t want to carry at school. I 100% support her right not to. But that doesn’t at all mean she’s representative of her profession or her gender. A sheriff in Ohio held a gun training for teachers and expected 50 to sign up, within an hour he had over 100 and within 4 hours he had 200. He had to cap it at 300 and will train more when those are done. It was similar for the USSC training here in Utah, they had to cap it at 200 and will do another session later for more.

      Conservatives and the NRA aren’t opposed to additional background checks, they’re opposed to a gun registry. Those are very different things.

      Liberals can talk all they want about how they don’t want to confiscate guns, but then they put forward a ban on all semi-automatic weapons (ie. 80% of guns in America) and over 150 democrats jump on board (that’s 28% of all elected politicians in Washington):

      Yes, they’ll graciously let me keep any I already I have (at least for now), but I can’t sell them, given them to my son, or transfer them to anyone else. It’s an affront to the 2nd Amendment and the founding fathers. And it will do very little to stop school shootings (there are already 300 million guns in America, and the bad guys will always have access to them).

      America is rotting morally. That is why we have a school shooting problem, not guns. We’ve always been a nation with lots of guns, that hasn’t changed. What has changed is liberal policies that make schools ultra-soft targets and prevent the prosecution of horrible behavior because it might affect a kids chance to graduate (and the schools graduation statistics). Regardless of what you think of Ann Coulter (I’m not a fan), this article explains exactly how we ended up with 17 kids murdered in Florida:

      It was entirely preventable. There were more red flags than a Russian garage sale. But prosecuting the kid for any of his dozens of run-ins with the law would have tainted their record and got in the way of their horrible sheriffs political aspirations.

      • comments March 7, 2018 at 8:21 pm

        There were more red flags than a Russian garage sale….

        too funny

      • redrock4 March 8, 2018 at 12:45 pm

        And there it is, leave it to you and Ann Coulter to blame liberals for the shooting. It must be the Godlessness and the lack of family values along with liberal entitlement that engendered the soft approach toward bad behavior. Look, you’re going to lose your guns. Sorry to say it but two things are for sure – marijuana will be legal everywhere in the U.S. and you are going to lose some of your gun rights. Bummer right? Now what? Oh, also, some Americans have learned a little lesson from this whole Trump experiment. Expect progress.

  • NickDanger March 7, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    IMO this is a no-brainer. Of course the more armed, trained teachers we have, the better. It’s a deterrent for one thing, and for another it will most likely save lives if an incident happens. With even a dozen teachers at a given school who are packing, prepared, and courageous, I just can’t see how this doesn’t end with fewer deaths if the worst-case scenario happens.

    These shootings all happen pretty much the same way – the shooter is pretty much in control of the situation until he decides to either turn tail and run or put himself out of everyone’s misery. No one stands up to the maniac because no one has the means to stop him. But you add a squadron of tactically-trained teachers already inside the school with the shooter, he isn’t going to make it far.

    Obviously not all teachers will want to, or will need to participate. Teachers are just like any other segment of the population, many of them are physically weak, many strong, many unwilling, many willing. Point being, you can find enough teachers at any given school who would be useful in this capacity, as well as keen to play a role in protecting the lives of students. And I like Trump’s idea of giving these people a pay bonus to compensate them for the training time and taking on the added responsibility.

    • comments March 7, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      it might be a good idea

    • redrock4 March 8, 2018 at 1:14 pm

      Sure, the solution to kids with guns in schools – put more guns in the school. Cause’ that’s the way we solve things around here. But consider this – what if they switch to bombs? Now what? So, using school tragedies to promote your gun lust is rather disgusting and will not possibly work.

      “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

      • NickDanger March 8, 2018 at 4:25 pm

        I’ll field this.

        Red, your thinking is faulty. At some point you lost your train of thought and missed something.

        Let’s start at the beginning of a hypothetical school shooting scenario. The shooter enters the school, with a gun – usually a high-powered rifle and plenty of extra ammo, and occasionally some attempt at body armor.

        Now how many guns are in the school, Red? One.

        Who is going to confront the shooter? The unarmed masses at whom he is shooting? No, at this point there is only one thing that is going to help – more guns in the school. How many more guns do you want in there at this point? One more? Ten more? 100 more? Truth is, at THIS POINT, you want as many guns in that school as possible. An ideal scenario would be, everyone is packing, and when the shooter starts to do his random murder routine, he takes about 9000 bullets to the chest before he can get off his second round.

        That’s unrealistic but my point is that your underlying math – “Sure, the solution to kids with guns in schools – put more guns in the school” – is faulty in premise. There’s only one gun that counts, and that’s the one in the hands of the insane murderer. Once that gun is introduced into the equation, there’s not a sane person who would argue that the best hope for a low body count is plenty of gun-toting teachers inside.

        And that’s what we’re preparing for, Red – the worst-case scenario. Because we’re Americans, and that’s how we prepare – IF we can make it past the faulty logic of those who would rather count guns than maniacs.

        Guns are here to stay, Red, the genie is out of the bottle. Those who wish to do harm with them will definitely find a way to get guns. The only other question is, do we law-abiding citizens want all the criminals to know that we’ve got nothing in our pockets but keys? By law?

        Think again, Red. Harder this time.

  • Blaine March 7, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    I have helped train hundreds of school staff and adult college students. Yes, they are comfortable packing.

    No, they don’t worry about a “disturbed student” taking their gun because nobody knows he/she has a gun.

    Not, they don’t worry about getting shot by responding law enforcement officers. No rational person in Utah expects a teacher armed with a 5-shot revolver to “be a tactical officer” and seek a fight with an intruder dressed in body armor and armed with a high-power long gun (rifle or shotgun). Instead, they know to simply follow the school’s lock-down protocol, staying in their locked room with their students. All they need do is to stop the intruder if he/she comes through that locked classroom door.

    Yes, they remain focused on teaching their students. The gun is only for self-defense — not a distraction. If he/she is forced to defend him/herself, the students will be just fine. Anyone who is in the habit of carrying (pants on, gun on) knows that the gun is not a distraction after a couple of days carrying.

    Yes, they are mentally prepared. They role-play situations in their minds to hone their decision-making ability. They are determined to protect themselves and their students until police arrive. They understand the consequences of using deadly force. They know that deadly force can and does save lives every day. (A typical mass shooting that is stopped by a civilian on the scene has about 2 casualties. A typical mass shooting that is stopped by a cop has a dozen or more casualties because the shooting is usually over by the time the police arrive.)

    Teachers know that uniformed “well trained school resource officers (SRO)” will be the first to be shot by the intruder, and therefore not of much help. The on-scene SROs in Broward County, Florida were as lucky as they were non-responsive. Any teacher who bets his/her life and that of his/her students on luck or non-responsive rescue are sure to be disappointed. They will wait for the rest of their lives for help. A reasonable teacher is not “comfortable” with that.

    • PatriotLiberal March 8, 2018 at 12:37 am


      “They role-play situations in their minds to hone their decision-making ability”
      Roleplaying hero scenarios in their mind doesn’t mean that said roleplayer will be able to respond effectively when faced with a real-life scenario.

      When I was like 10, me and my friends used to “roleplay” saving the world as power rangers at recess but that doesn’t mean I can morph and call a dragon zord in real-life.

  • jaybird March 7, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    If a teacher wants to pack and take on the liability of shooting someone unintentionally, why not?

  • Mike P March 8, 2018 at 10:20 am

    I believe we’re opening a HUGE can of worms on this one. I give it 1 year max before some student get ahold of a teachers gun

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