The Utah Education Association Wednesday said it opposes allowing concealed weapons into public schools and promised to fight an apparent loophole in a new Utah gun law.
UEA President Lily Eskelsen spoke out against the law in a news conference, saying that it had a loophole "as big as the Grand Canyon," and that some legislators she had spoken with were surprised the law could be interpreted to allow guns on school property."A lot of people think that schools are already exempt from allowing firearms on their property," Eskelsen said. But she explained that just isn't true. Schools have no authority to tell people with concealed weapons permits to keep guns off their grounds.
The UEA's statement came on the heels of other announcements pertaining to concealed weapons. Granite school district banned its employees from carrying concealed firearms, while the LDS Church made a statement that, while stopping short of an outright ban, said concealed weapons are not appropriate in churches.
Eskelsen questioned the gun lobby, particularly the Utah Shooting Sports Council, in saying that they represent the rights of Utah teachers.
"There's an incredible problem with the Utah Shooting Sports Council speaking on behalf of Utah teachers," Eskelsen said.
Scott Engen, president of the council, asserted that he spoke for teachers who are licensed to carry concealed firearms.
"We are concerned that the policy the UEA is pursuing may place those teachers' safety at risk," he said.
"Quite candidly," he continued, "we have to speak for them because they fear retribution from their union and school administrators," if permit-holding teachers choose to bring a firearm to school.
Engen said that there has never been a problem with any of Utah's 11,000 permit holders threatening the safety of others.
"Is there a threat to anyone's safety? I can't demonstrate that. If there is not a documentable problem or pattern of behavior that would endanger the public, there is no reason to change the law or limit the right of these good people to lawfully protect themselves."
There appears to be support from lawmakers to amend the law.
Vicki Varela, Gov. Mike Leavitt's spokeswoman, said Leavitt would support an amendment to ban a permit holder from bringing a concealed weapon to a school.
"He says very strongly that that's what should be done to create a safe environment for our kids," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell said that not only schools but churches, businesses and college should have the right to adopt their own policies concerning concealed weapons.
"These organizations ought to have the right to protect their employees, their members, their guests and their patrons from the threat of violence and harm from persons carrying weapons," he said.
For Eskelsen, a safe school is a gun-free school.
"What is confusing is an encouragement on behalf of the gun lobby that we are safer when we leave guns in school. They are saying we should arm our teachers, and I think that's ridiculous. They're saying it's a good thing to do it. They're encouraging teachers to bring guns to school."
"Can you imagine the problems that are going to arise if we had (to deal) with loaded firearms?"
Eskelsen said that regardless of the law-abiding nature of a teacher who chose to bring a gun, students get into things. Students, she said are physical with teachers, they pat them on the back, and they get into things that they shouldn't get into. "The accidents will go up, and kids will get hurt."