Tom Smart, Deseret News
Ben Nielsen shares his feelings about guns in school as thousands demonstrate at a pro gun rally sponsored by Guns Across America at the Utah State Capitol Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, in Salt Lake City.
Recently there has been a lot of talk about teachers bringing guns to school in Utah. There is a very large voice behind gun advocacy here, but I would like to lend my voice to an important counterpoint and add some points I hope we will all consider carefully.
Many parents here seem comfortable with the notion of armed teachers. For those of us who are not, we feel our rights as parents have been utterly violated. We have no right under Utah law to know whether at any point in time there is a gun or guns in our child's classroom.
According to the Utah Department of Health: "For every one time a gun in a home was used in self-defense, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and eleven attempted or completed suicides." (You can find this information on Utah.gov.)
Yes, a classroom is not a home, but there are no studies or information available for guns in classrooms, since this is a very recent phenomenon. And Utah is only one of four states that currently allows concealed weapons in school zones. It is important to remember that the law allows not only teachers to bring guns to school, but anyone who has taken the very short permit training. Volunteers, janitors, administrators, grandparents, anyone! We are just blindly trusting that all these people will operate their guns in a safe and attentive manner. Parents are not even allowed to bring homemade cupcakes to school, but we can bring a lethal weapon.
Consider all the ways this can backfire. Let's say a volunteer leaves a gun in her purse and your kindergartener wanders over and curiously investigates. Suppose a large and behaviorally challenged high school student overpowers an instructor. I have heard of students saying that if they even think a certain teacher has a gun, they will not go to class because they feel threatened and intimidated. Is this an environment that is conducive to learning? Absolutely not.
Furthermore, teachers are already strapped for time and resources, forced to wear multiple hats and serve different roles. What teacher has the time or money to stay on top of the weapons training and target practice needed for responsibly wielding a gun at school? What average Utah parent has the time?
A local police chief told me that our schools were not built for gunfire. Bullets penetrate doors and walls, leaving many at risk. When did vigilantism become our modus operandi for protecting our children and ourselves? And why aren't we discussing Utah's woefully inadequate gun laws? Having smart and consistent gun laws should be our very first line of defense in protecting our children.
There are so many avenues for criminals to amass large amounts of guns and ammunition in this state, I don't even know where to begin to explain them all. The classified ads, for starters, then gun shows; not to mention the fact the our state exempts itself from the need to provide necessary information to the federal system for background checks. I guess Utah parents must know what is better for the safety of their children than the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states: "The AAP firmly believes that that the most effective way to prevent firearm-related injury to children is to keep guns out of homes and communities."
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Do we know better than the Utah Education Association, which aligns itself with the NEA saying: "Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees." Really legislators, I have no constitutional right to know whether there is a gun in my child's classroom?
And for those who would say not allowing guns in our schools will leave our children open and defenseless, why not tax the stacks of guns being sold in our state to pay for more police officers at school? They are the only truly qualified professionals who swear an oath to protect us. Vigilante laypeople do not.
Miriam Walkingshaw is the co-founder of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence.