School Climate & Safety

Utah Grapples With Concealed Guns in Schools

By Bess Keller — October 08, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Are schools safer when teachers pack heat?

That question continues to roil the political waters in Utah, as school district leaders there come to grips with a new state law allowing teachers and others with permits to carry concealed guns in schools.

Around the nation, 34 states have passed laws allowing members of the general public to carry concealed handguns if they have permits. But most of the statutes, including more than a handful passed in recent years, put school property off- limits to such weapons, or let school districts ban the guns if they so choose.

In Utah, though, legislation passed last winter took away the authority from school boards to exempt school property from the concealed-gun law. That cast into stark relief the question of whether guns under someone’s jacket or in someone’s handbag add to or detract from the safety of schoolchildren.

It also put school boards in the awkward position of carrying out a law they by and large abhor, while writing policies that will protect them legally and actively discourage school staff members from exercising their new right.

Proponents of allowing concealed weapons in schools argue that schools, like other spaces with lots of people, are less likely to be invaded by attackers when they know there could be a “good guy” with a gun around. They also point out that the people who carry guns under a state-permit system are unlikely to be careless with their weapons, minimizing the risk of accidental injury or death.

But opponents, which in Utah included virtually every education group, contend that people with state- issued permits aren’t necessarily marksmen, and that in a crisis, innocent people brandishing guns make the job of the police more difficult.

“I worry every day about an incident like Columbine,” in which two students at that Colorado high school went on a shooting spree, said Stephen F. Ronnenkamp, the superintendent of the Granite school district in Salt Lake City, “but I also worry about the situation that could arise because people in our schools are not trained [in gun use] or don’t have good common sense.”

Slowly, Utah districts are coming forward with policies and strategies in response to the change in the state’s concealed-weapon law.

Policies Clamp Down

In a move applauded by the state affiliate of the National Education Association, the state’s two largest school districts have approved policies that clamp down on concealed weapons in their schools without banning them.

The policy put in place by the 70,000-student Granite district as the new law went into effect in June defines the lawful carrying or use of a weapon as “outside the scope of employment” of district personnel, suggesting that the district will not accept liability for any gun-related mishap.

It also prohibits employees from revealing to anyone in the school that they have a weapon, and from using district property for storing it.

The school board of the 75,000-student Jordan district, also in the Salt Lake area, approved a similar, but slightly narrower policy in July. There, district policy states that if a teacher brings a concealed gun to school, it must remain with the teacher at all times.

Martin W. Bates, who oversees policy for the Granite district, says that about 10 of Utah’s 40 districts have asked for copies of his district’s new gun rules.

Pat Rusk, the president of the Utah Education Association, the NEA affiliate, said she believes that eventually every district will draft a policy so teachers will know what they can and can’t do with regard to concealed weapons.

Clearly, the battle over the issue is not over.

Many teachers, for their part, believe that the risks for school employees and students grow when any adult might be concealing a gun. “I hate to think of a day when there is a teacher-assisted suicide,” said Ms. Rusk, who suggested that a student could think, “‘I’m going to make my teacher blow me away in front of other kids.’” While she’s sure that some Utah teachers back the law, Ms. Rusk added: “I haven’t had anybody tell me personally, ‘I feel safer now.’ ”

Safe Havens for Learning, a coalition of education and church groups in Utah, has filed suit against the state as part of a campaign to put the issue of guns in schools before voters.

In August, a state judge upheld the University of Utah’s longstanding campus gun ban. The ruling prompted the Safe Havens group to call for the legislature to reconsider the changes enacted last winter.

But the chief sponsor of the legislation wants to extend the reach of Utah’s concealed-gun laws. Senate Majority Leader Michael G. Waddoups, a Republican, wants to appeal the court ruling and sponsor a bill that would override the University of Utah ban.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Michigan School Shooter's Parents Sentenced to at Least 10 Years in Prison
They are the first parents convicted for failures to prevent a school shooting.
3 min read
Jennifer Crumbley stares at her husband James Crumbley during sentencing at Oakland County Circuit Court on April 9, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich. Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, are asking a judge to keep them out of prison as they face sentencing for their role in an attack that killed four students in 2021.
Jennifer Crumbley stares at her husband James Crumbley during sentencing at Oakland County Circuit Court on April 9, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich. The parents of Ethan Crumbley, who killed four students at his Michigan high school in 2021, asked a judge to keep them out of prison.
Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via AP
School Climate & Safety Civil Rights Groups Seek Federal Funding Ban on AI-Powered Surveillance Tools
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, the coalition argued these tools could violate students' civil rights.
4 min read
Illustration of human silhouette and facial recognition.
DigitalVision Vectors / Getty
School Climate & Safety Want to Tackle Attendance Apathy? Students Will Show You How
There’s no one-shot solution to chronic absenteeism, but listening to students is a good way to begin.
5 min read
Photo of teenage boy outside of school.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety Opinion What Do Restorative Practices Look Like in Schools?
Such practices teach students how to resolve disputes amicably, own their actions, and be empathetic and forgiving.
9 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty