More than a dozen teachers and public school employees will spend part of their UEA weekend in a classroom — learning how to use a gun.
Clark Aposhian is offering a free class today to public school employees seeking to get their concealed- weapons permit.
"It is self-defense," he told the Deseret Morning News on Thursday. "But because teachers and school administrators and custodians are typically surrounded by students all day, any threat to any individual with a firearm would also be a threat to those students."
The concealed-weapons instructor's offer was met with opposition from some teachers and union representatives at the Utah Education Association's conference in Salt Lake City.
"We've always resisted the idea of arming school employees," said Susan Kuziak, executive director of the 18,000-member teachers union. "Though the intentions may be good, ultimately, the potential for harm is too great."
A handful of teachers interviewed at the UEA convention agreed. Some said the idea of guns in schools, even when toted by trusted colleagues, makes them nervous.
"Who's to say a kid couldn't take a gun from me or another teacher?" said Darren Dickson, a teacher at Altamont High in Duchesne County. "It's too much of a risk."
Aposhian said the recent school shootings across the nation prompted him to offer the free training. In addition to being a concealed-weapons instructor, he is the owner of FairWarning Firearm Training, the chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and the husband of a schoolteacher.
"Teachers are always complaining that they don't get support from the community," he said. "Here we are."
School districts have long grappled with the guns-on-campus issue. Federal law bans weapons — real or fake — from school property. But Utah law now makes clear schools can't prevent people with concealed-weapons permits from carrying firearms on campuses. Granite School District's policy, for example, allows permit holders to keep their gun "readily accessible for immediate use," but bans teachers from leaving their weapons in a desk drawer or coat closet.
Law enforcement officers never have to give up their guns at the school house door.
Aposhian said he does not want teachers to suddenly become "heroes" in the event of a school shooting. In fact, he said, they should continue to follow school lockdown procedures, which include teachers locking doors and remaining in classrooms.
"We discourage teachers from roaming the halls looking for the intruder," he said. "We're not trying to turn them into law enforcement in any way."
But the teachers union says that's how it feels.
"The knee-jerk reaction is, 'Let's scare the bad guys off,"' Kuziak said. "But people who have committed these acts are not stable and normal in their thinking," considering they've been willing to kill themselves, she said.
Still, that doesn't mean more can't be done in terms of firearms training for teachers, some say.
One suggestion is to offer that training to public school employees through the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council. During a radio call-in show on Wednesday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he would be open to presenting that idea to POST.
However, Shurtleff's office insisted Thursday that despite broadcast reports, it was not an initiative of the Utah Attorney General's Office.
"The idea deserves public scrutiny to see if it has any merit," spokesman Paul Murphy said Thursday.
The UEA for one doesn't believe it does.
Yet there are teachers interested in Aposhian's invitation. So far, about 2 dozen teachers and public school employees have signed up for his class. Included with the free class is fingerprinting and photography for the concealed-weapons application. Public school employees will still have to pay a $59 application fee to the state.
Despite the UEA's opposition to the idea, Aposhian said he has not heard any detractors. He sees only an additional layer of school security with teachers legally and lawfully carrying concealed weapons.
"A shooter going in there may pause to reflect," he said. "Because they may find a teacher carrying a firearm for self-defense."