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'Annie,' don't get gun for Nebo history fair

Even use of disabled weapons is frowned on in West activity

SALEM — An annual event at Mt. Loafer Elementary that draws on lessons about America's wild West has been caught in the cross hairs of the gun-control debate.

The Nebo School District elementary school each year asks students to dress up as characters like Daniel Boone and Annie Oakley for a mock "wax museum" of historical figures.

But as the students set up their displays last week, four students used real guns as props during the live diorama in the gymnasium.

Against the backdrop of a national debate against guns in schools — largely spurred by fatal shootings in Columbine, Colo., and Mount Morris Township, Mich., Nebo's superintendent says the weapons shouldn't have been used.

"We don't think it is a good idea," said Carl Nielson, the top administrator in the rural district about 60 miles south of Salt Lake City. "Even cap guns shouldn't be used. They can do their wax museums without them."

Nielson said no complaints have been registered in previous years about the props. Parents also told officials that the guns were missing parts that rendered them useless.

In addition, school officials say the guns the students held at the event were checked for ammunition before they were used.

The 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act requires schools that receive federal funding to expel any students caught with a firearm for up to one year.

A federal Safe Schools Act also bans any weapons, real or fake, on school campuses.

"We have a policy that prohibits guns in the school. I made a mistake," said Principal Roger Bushman, who last year was chosen Utah's Elementary Principal of the Year.

Bushman said safety of the student body was not compromised, but the practice of using real guns in the history fair would likely be discontinued at the 4-year-old school.

He's not surprised at the attention the school has received.

"Not in light of what is going on in the country," he said. "We've used replicas in the past in displays — but it's a different culture now."