Arming teachers, as suggested by President Donald Trump and the gun-rights lobbyist National Rifle Association, isn’t new in the Pikes Peak region.
The board of Hanover School District 28 in southeast El Paso County voted 3-2 more than a year ago to let teachers and other staff trained to handle firearms in stressful situations carry concealed handguns on school property.
That hasn’t made the proposal any less controversial here.
Trump and the NRA have pushed for arming teachers and other school employees as a deterrent to deranged shooters such as the one who killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day.
Speaking to a gathering of conservatives Friday, Trump reiterated his push for “gun-adept teachers and coaches” to be able to carry concealed firearms and said it was “time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers – we don’t want them in our schools.”
If a teacher had been carrying a concealed firearm when a former student began firing at the Florida school, “the teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump said.
No other Colorado Springs-area district besides Hanover allows employees other than security officers to carry guns in schools or on campuses, and the local teachers union is adamantly opposed to its members being armed.
Colorado Springs School District 11 employs up to six campus security officers at each high school and up to two at each middle school, according to the district’s website. While not all of those officers are armed, each has completed 40 hours of crisis prevention training, first aid, CPR, school law and juvenile law. Nine of the officers are permitted to carry firearms and have received police academy or equivalent training, the site says.
Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers, said there are numerous reasons arming teachers is a bad idea:
First, classrooms are unpredictable.
“One of the great things about kids is that they’re always surprising you and guns are not a place where you want to be surprised,” Vick said.
Second, the environment in the classroom.
“We want to make sure our schools are conducive for learning and don’t feel like prisons,” he said. “Some people may feel safer with guns, but most kids I know do not.”
And third, in active shooter situation, additional people with guns only complicate the scene, Vick said.
“It makes it much more difficult to sort out exactly who (police) are looking for,” he said.
That happened during the shooting in Las Vegas last Oct. 1 when a gunman armed with semi-automatic rifles with bump stocks that effectively turned them into automatic weapons killed dozens and injured hundreds by firing from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel at concertgoers.
Many in the audience and with the performers also were armed, but found handguns were useless against the fusillade of bullets raining down on them from a distance they couldn’t match. However, according to reports, police responding to reports of gunfire and casualties first had to sort out the good guys with guns from the bad guy.
In the Hanover district, employees have been allowed to carry concealed guns since the board voted in December 2016.
“All I can say is the policy is in place,” said district Superintendent Grant Schmidt. “It was and still is the board’s and my decision to keep everything confidential so any perpetrator will not know which staff is or is not armed.”
The training required is similar to law enforcement and emphasizes quickly deciphering who is a perpetrator and who is not, he said.
“It’s a split-second decision when under duress in a live situation,” Schmidt said. “It continues to be vital that we do all things possible to keep our students and staff safe when on school grounds.”
Intensive training – more than just having a familiarity with firearms or a basic course in handgun safety – would be required if teachers and school employees are to be expected to confront an attacker armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a local trainer said.
“When things happen, if you’re under stress and you have to fight for your life, they usually say you revert to the lowest form of training you had,” said Ava Flanell, owner of Elite Firearms & Training. “So you have to constantly practice, just like any sport you want to be proficient in.”
Flanell said she teaches about three weapons classes a week. They’re usually about five hours long and contain a small number of students. Her most common courses teach basic pistol and concealed carry techniques.
“I don’t feel like they can take a class and the minute you walk out the door, they’re set,” she said. “If you want to take it seriously, then you should.
“If you want to carry a gun you need to know how to use that firearm properly, how to draw from a holster and how to shoot under pressure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.