Laura Seitz, Deseret News
WEST VALLEY CITY — Donalyn Shock learned of the Newtown, Conn., shooting while taking her lunch break at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School.
When Shock, a teacher's assistant, returned to class and saw her students, she wondered what could drive a person to commit such a horrendous act of violence and cruelty.
She also wondered if an educator with a gun could have made a difference.
"I think it's important to have gun protection," Shock said. "If you don't have it, we're sitting ducks."
When the subject of teachers carrying concealed weapons came up with her co-workers, Shock said many of her colleagues worried about the potential for even greater violence:
What if a teacher's gun were used to harm even more victims?
What if students became trapped in crossfire?
The questions are part of a national debate on guns and school safety, further fueled by the call of the National Rifle Association Dec. 21 to put armed guards in every school. That position was tempered by NRA President David Keene in an interview Thursday with CNN, when he said the decision should be left up to officials at each school.
“We’re not urging that teachers be armed, but in some schools, school districts and teachers are armed today, and if the school district and the teachers want to do it that way, it’s really up to them, it seems to me," he told CNN.
Thursday, 200 Utah education employees accepted an offer for free weapons training that will qualify them for a concealed weapons permit. The motivation for Shock was the answer to her own question: What could have been done to stop the gunman in Connecticut?
"To me the 'what if' is maybe I could stop it," she said. "I'd rather have a fighting chance than no chance."
Shock and her fellow educators took advantage of free training at the Maverik Center. The training was provided by the Utah Shooting Sports Council and OPSGEAR, a weapons and tactical gear company based in North Salt Lake. The typical $50 course fee was waived for teachers, bus drivers, janitors or anyone who works in a school.
"We felt the training that included locking your door and hiding behind a desk isn't sufficient," said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. "People are frustrated. People are tired of being victims."
OPSGEAR spokeswoman Brandy Vega said organizers set a cap on the number of participants for the training, which was filled two days after being made available. She estimated that at least 100 people called about the course after it was full.
Participants in the six-hour course left with all the documentation and training necessary to submit their applications to the state for a concealed weapons permit.
Utah and Kansas are the only states that allow permit holders to carry a concealed weapon on school property, according to the Associated Press.
"We want to educate our teachers and protect our children," Vega said.
Third-grade teacher Stephen Pratt said he hadn't considered obtaining a concealed weapons permit prior to the Connecticut school shooting. Pratt said his main reason for participating in the training was a desire to protect his students.
"We have policies in effect, but how would you protect yourself?" he said.
Utah County junior high teacher Gary Peaslee said he already held a concealed weapon permit but had never carried his weapon in school. He said he was interested in the teacher training because the school setting is unique and not always discussed at length in weapons training.
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