A Utah teacher is shown how to handle a handgun by an instructor at a concealed-weapons training class to 200 Utah teachers on Dec. 27, 2012 in West Valley City, Utah. Credit: Getty
By Leila Macor, AFP
Several U.S. states are considering allowing school teachers to carry weapons, and educators, determined not to allow a repeat of the Newtown massacre, are flocking to training sessions.
As gun control advocates try to outlaw military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, gun enthusiasts, backed by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), are taking a very different approach.
The gun lobby argues that there is no way to stop crazy or evil people doing bad things and so the only sure-fire way to prevent mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook elementary is to take down the shooter.
In a rare press conference one week after 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot dead 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six adults with a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, the NRA called for armed guards in every school in the country.
But in Utah, one of the handful of American states that currently allows people to carry licensed concealed weapons into public schools, many teachers are unwilling to wait and see which political argument wins out.
In response to Newtown, the Utah Shooting Sports Council (USSC) waived its fee on Thursday for educators wanting to participate in training sessions to gain permits to carry concealed weapons.
More than half of the roughly 400 education professionals that showed an interest had to be turned away because there wasn't enough room on the course.
"We had about 400 that wanted to do it and we only had seating for about 180," USSC board member Bill Scott said.
The surge in interest was seen by organizers as a direct response to the shooting in Newtown, with teachers showing a heightened awareness that people are responsible for their own safety and wanting their own permits.
"A lot of these people may have shot all their lives and some of them may have never touched a gun," Scott said.
"We're not advocating that all teachers should be armed. We're just saying that those that choose to be armed, that want to get the training, they have the right to do that in Utah, we'd like to facilitate that."
While teachers train themselves to try to stop the next Lanza, state officials like Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne are busily crafting legislation to make sure they can legally do so.
"The proposal is that any school that wishes to do so may designate the principal or another designee to receive training in the use of firearms and how to handle emergencies such as that which occurred in Newtown," he said.
Ideally, there would be an armed police officer in every school, but due to budget considerations this may not be possible, so training a designated teacher to handle firearms is "the next best solution," Horne said.
Pro-gun lawmakers in Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota and Tennessee have also vowed to propose legislation in the coming months that would allow for armed teachers in schools.
"Hopefully, these monsters, these animals that are doing this stuff will stay away from the schools," said Scott.
"Our view also is that it's not just that you would actively engage the shooter, just the fact that the bad guys know that teachers are armed in Utah is a huge deterrent.
"They tend to pick targets where they know there will be lots of innocent victims and they're not going to encounter any resistance."
As teachers stripped semi-automatic pistols on tables at the USSC gathering, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was putting the final touches to a bill that would ban weapons like the one Lanza used in Newtown.
Gun rights advocates, led by the NRA, are stringently against such measures.
"The thing about them being assault weapons, it's a misnomer," said Scott.
"These weapons are no different than a standard sporting weapon. We don't support any bans on those because true military weapons are already banned in the United States."