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Guns in class: Colorado school district plans to train and arm its teachers

A rural Colorado school district will allow its teachers to carry guns as part of a wider effort to enhance school security. The community was divided on the measure.

A poster with the faces and names of the young victims of the Sandy Hook School massacre rests on the desk of State Senator Angela Giron (D) of Pueblo, during a 2013 debate over gun control bills in the Colorado Legislature.
Brennan Linsley/AP/File
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A Colorado school district has voted to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons, following a growing number of schools that have made educators an integral part of their school security policies.

In a 3-2 vote, the board of Hanover School District 28 supported a resolution that would train and arm teachers. It’s a rural district 30 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, where law enforcement can take between 20 and 30 minutes to arrive if anything happens.

With that in mind, advocates say arming teachers is a cost-effective way to keep students safe. The proposal has divided the community, however, with some students, parents, and teachers arguing that having more guns in school is unnecessary and may even increase the risks to children. 

"There is a desire for a perceived increase in security within the building," explained board president Mark McPherson, KDRO reported. Mr. McPherson voted against the measure.

This debate has played out in dozens of school districts in the four years since an armed intruder shot 20 students and six employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. On Dec. 14, 2012. In Idaho, Arkansas, and across the country, teachers have been trained to handle firearms. Several Colorado school districts have already implemented similar policies. In dozens of other cases, however, such resolutions have failed. Primarily Democratic legislators have advocated for gun control policies that would prevent would-be shooters from having access to the weapons.

In District 28, the issue has been under discussion since June, when school board member Michael Lawson suggested allowing concealed carry. The board voted on Wednesday, the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.

For Mr. Lawson, who is an NRA firearms instructor and volunteer firefighter, allowing teachers to carry weapons is a practical way to protect students both from armed intruders and from the risks connected to marijuana cultivation – possibly a flashpoint for violence – which is going on a few miles from the school.

“If this resolution passes, we can put up a sign, 'Some staff at this school may be armed,’” he told the Gazette of Colorado Springs. “To me, that's a deterrent."

It’s unclear how significant a concern marijuana cultivation is for school security. The sheriff’s office has made just one big bust of an illegal grow in the county. But new marijuana laws means that number could soon increase, El Paso Deputy Jeff Schulz told the Gazette.

McPherson said arming teachers simply isn’t necessary, and could even be dangerous.

"We haven't seen the need, and I think arming individuals who are not trained to operate with weapons on a daily basis puts everybody in the building at risk," he told the Gazette. "As a retired Army officer, I would never arm our employees.”

The district has never had an intruder, Superintendent Grant Schmidt said.

More guns means more possibilities for them to get into the wrong hands, suggested Ken Corbett in a piece for Slate.

“As a child psychologist, I find myself thinking, 'Do these people know children?' ” he asked. “Kids get their hands on most everything.”

Parents, educators, and students in the Colorado district were divided, a survey found. Many supporters cited their hope that the measure could save lives before law enforcement arrives. Parent Roy Smith, who opposed training and arming teachers, suggested alternatives, including pepper spray and stun guns. Learning to use a gun takes time teachers may not have, he told the Gazette.

McPherson, the board president, recommended hiring another school security officer. But board members suggested that would be too costly, at up to $55,000 per year, Superintendent Schmidt said.

President-elect Donald Trump has been among those advocating for training more teachers to carry guns

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